At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I believe that Japan could still be the next major growth driver in gaming. However, I say that with some reservations after reporting throughout 2014 about potential gaming legislation in Japan -- the idea never took hold enough to get a bill to the Japanese legislators to vote on.
This year, as casino companies like Las Vegas Sands (NYSE:LVS) and Wynn Resorts (NASDAQ:WYNN) are struggling due to issues in Macau, the potential $40 billion gaming industry that Japan could be continues to spark excitement.
The discussion of even bringing a bill to the Japanese congressional floor went nowhere last year by the time the Diet (the Japanese congress) left its legislative session. However, the push has been renewed this year, and a bill has actually made it to the floor for the first time. It is to be voted on by September.
The odds look to be getting better. While there are certainly still headwinds, one of the biggest Pachinko gaming companies (arcade-style games with a gambling feel) in the country, Dynam Holdings, said in May that they believe the bill has a 60% chance of passing. According to GGR Asia, a Japanese lawmaker put the chance of success at 70% as of June.
Supported by the Prime Minister
The main opposition to the bill is the Buddhist-influenced Komeito government party, which has reservations about potential gambling addiction, increased crime, and other societal issues. However, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a major supporter of the bill passing due to the economic windfall these resorts are expected to bring.
Abe has been outspoken in the past about getting this bill passed, and it looks like much of his government is following suit this time around. Various Japanese congressional members met with the American Gaming Association in Washington D.C. in May to discuss the benefits of legislation.
With the guidance of U.S. legislators, who already regulate a casino industry, as well as a push from the Prime Minister himself, the bill looks more likely than ever to get enough support. Still, this is purely speculative, as we cannot get a very close look at the actual legislative discussion around the bill. So is there enough of a chance to make a bet on this?
Time to buy in?
A 60% to 70% chance of the legislation passing does sound promising, but government bureaucracy is far less transparent than actual business fundamentals. The bill could see delays due to more pressing political issues, pushing the vote into next year's congressional session. The regular annual session already ended last month, and the three-month extension was added for legislation that Abe deems urgent. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the legislature will make time for this bill.
Still, if it does pass, it could be a savior for these Las Vegas-based companies that have struggled during the past year due to weakness in Macau and slow growth in the U.S. Shares of Las Vegas Sands are down about 40% from their 2014 highs, while shares of Wynn have lost around 60%.
Bullish prospects either way
Now could be a great time to buy into the gaming industry, while the chips are down and a major growth catalyst lies on the horizon, though far from certain. And Las Vegas Sands still looks like the best choice in the gaming industry for future returns.
The company is likely to win one of the first Japanese gaming licenses, as Prime Minister Abe visited its Marina Bay Sands resort in Singapore last year. While he was there, he spoke about how Japan could build similarly integrated resorts and boost tourism.
Sands also has other Asian projects in the pipeline such as the potential for properties in South Korea and Vietnam. It is also the most diversified player in Macau and looks like it is in the best position to benefit from a Macau turnaround. Furthermore, the company looks the most attractive fundamentally with an industry low price-to-earnings ratio of just 16 times and an industry high dividend yield of around 5%.
If the Japanese market does not pan out, Las Vegas Sands still looks like the best casino play. At these depressed price levels, it just might be time to buy.