Japanese casino mogul Okada gets California license

LOS ANGELES Wed Apr 17, 2013 7:26pm EDT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Kazuo Okada, locked in a legal battle with Wynn Resorts International and the subject of a federal bribery investigation, said on Wednesday his wholly-owned Aruze Gaming America obtained a California gaming license and this shows he is suitable to conduct business in the casino sector.

"I am pleased the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC) granted a Gaming Resource Supplier license to Aruze and its principals," said Okada, noting he has obtained licenses in 18 new jurisdictions and several license renewals since Wynn brought a suit against him in February 2012. Wynn claimed Okada engaged in improper conduct with cash payments and gifts to Filipino gaming authorities.

Altogether, the company, which provides electronic gaming machines, has about 150 gaming licenses, including multiple tribal licenses in several states.

"Each of these new licenses and renewals has been based on a determination that I am 'suitable,'" Okada said in a statement.

Okada's Aruze Gaming America is privately held and separate from Aruze USA, which is wholly owned by Okada's Universal Entertainment Corp, and was Wynn's largest shareholder until February 2012 when the board forcibly redeemed its 19.75 percent stake at a 30 percent discount.

The new California license is in addition to 43 California tribal licenses Aruze Gaming already holds. California requires that operators whose revenues top $25,000 within the state must submit an application for a state license.

Wynn Resorts declined comment on Okada's announcement.

Last week, U.S. authorities publicly acknowledged there was a criminal investigation of Okada, Universal Entertainment and Aruze USA, for possible violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), an anti-bribery statute dating to the 1970s.

Tina Littleton, executive director for the California Gambling Control Commision, said it will continue to monitor the U.S. Department of Justice investigation.

"The pending investigation was a concern, but the commission ultimately unanimously decided to issue Aruze and Okada a two-year finding of suitability with the directive to keep the commission apprised of the investigation," said Littleton.

"If there's any finding of criminal activity, a revocation or other action may take place."

Okada and his companies are being investigated for potential violations of anti-bribery laws relating to a $2 billion casino project in the Philippines, according to a recent court filing.

U.S. federal prosecutors have sought permission to intervene in a lawsuit by Wynn against Okada to prevent disrupting an ongoing criminal probe into the bribery allegations.

Universal said in December it filed a defamation suit against Reuters in Tokyo for its reporting on the payments. Reuters has said it stands by its reporting.

(Reporting By Susan Zeidler. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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