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Japan may pull a Singapore in controlling casino gambling: Analyst

Las Vegas Sands Corp, The Venetian.
Ricky Barnard | Wikipedia
Las Vegas Sands Corp, The Venetian.

Casino operators around the world are eyeing an entry into the seemingly lucrative Japanesemarket, but one analyst said lawmakers in the world's third largest economy may follow in Singapore's footsteps to limit gambling among her citizens.

Speaking to CNBC's "Street Signs", Fitch Ratings' senior gaming analyst Alex Bumazhny said Japan's potential casino revenue is estimated to be between $5 billion and $10 billion annually – comparable to Las Vegas and Singapore, but far below the $25 billion that Macau is expected to bring in this year.

His comments contrasted with the optimism surrounding Japan's decision to legalize casinos in December 2016, with observers noting that the huge domestic demand for gaming given the massive interest in a pachinko, a game similar to a slot machine. Brokerage CLSA projected that Japan could generate as much as $25 billion every year from its casinos.

"I don't think Japan is going to catch up with Macau for the simple reason that I think Japanese lawmakers, when they're making the bills, will limit the amount of gaming that could take place. What we're talking about is two to three large integrated resorts, maybe a couple more regional type of small casinos, so limited amount of positions," Bumazhny said.

"And they may even limit locals from gambling or have a fee like they do in Singapore where locals have to pay a fee to get into the casinos. So, all these things may constraint the actual amount of revenue that could be generated in Japan."

Singapore opened its doors to casinos in 2010. But concerns over the social impact of gambling saw regulators imposing a S$100 ($70.90) casino entry fee on every citizen and permanent resident. The city state also has a list of people barred from entering the casinos. Those names include those identified as having financial difficulties or put up by themselves or family members.

Despite such restrictions, the city state's two integrated resorts – large complexes comprising casinos, hotels, retail and entertainment outlets – have attracted tourism dollars and contribute to overall growth.

Japan now has till December this year to come up with rules on how it would regulate the industry. Japan is also expected to pick locations and operators for its first integrated resorts – large complexes that include casinos, hotels and retail.

Major casino operators worldwide, including Las Vegas Sands Corp, MGM Resorts International and Wynn Resorts, have expressed their interests in gunning for these licenses in Japan.