It's not even clear yet if casinos will be legalized in Japan, but some of the world's largest gaming companies are already champing at the bit to show what they could build there. Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) has said it will spend "whatever it takes", Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) has quietly eyed the country for the past few years, and Melco Crown (NASDAQ:MLCO) has reportedly met with officials in Japan in recent months.
But MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) is making a very public push to make inroads in Japan, particularly after making a late effort in Macau, the world's largest gaming market. With the Japanese gaming market expected to generate as much as $40 billion in revenue, it's no wonder casino companies are falling over themselves to get into Japan.
What MGM sees as Japan's gaming future
The central theme of MGM Resorts' push to win a gaming license in Japan is centered around the company's non-gaming activities. Even on the Las Vegas Strip, the company generates 69% of revenue from non-gaming activities, from hotel rooms to food and beverage to entertainment, so it's reasonable to think it would see a similar mix in Japan.
Management also projected that as many as 10 million incremental international visitors would visit Japan with an integrated resort and casino. That's a big number, but with convention and entertainment options it's not out of the realm of possibility.
MGM won't be the only company to tout these features, though. Las Vegas Sands has already had massive success with an integrated business model in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore, and Wynn Resorts has highly profitable resorts in Macau and Las Vegas, with the latter generating most of its revenue from high end non-gaming options.
What will be different in Japan?
If gaming is allowed in Japan, the question is which company would have an edge over competitors. The four companies above would definitely be in the running, but I see them as very different players.
Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands have leaders that know their way around the gaming industry and have a long history of building successful resorts. Las Vegas Sands definitely leads in the integrated resorts offering, but Wynn's attention to detail and high class designs would, in my opinion, fit the Japanese culture well.
MGM Resorts is still recovering from the disaster that is CityCenter, and slowly dismantling the Harmon Tower piece by piece. The CityCenter property was supposed to show the future of resorts, but instead it's become a confusing amalgamation of buildings that shows the problems that emerge when too many developers are involved in a project.
Melco Crown is the unknown in this group. Lawrence Ho, who is a founder and CEO, used his connections in Macau to gain a gaming license and acquired a stake in a Philippines resort, which could prove fruitful. But will Japan bet on a leader with as little experience as Ho with a flagship property at stake? That's unknown at this point.
To the winner goes the spoils
While I think the more experienced and high-end gaming companies hold an advantage in a potential Japanese gaming market, it's clear that MGM Resorts is putting its best foot forward. If a casino resort in Osaka is indeed built, a recent survey indicated that region alone could generate $18 billion in revenue. That's a lofty figure, and it shows why these companies are trying their best to gain a foothold there.