UPDATE 2-Sands CEO says to spend "whatever it takes" for Japan casino
* CEO Adelson said would spend $10 bln but rather invest $7 bln
* Adelson "wouldn't be happy" with equity partners, but not ruling out possibility
* CLSA estimates Japan gaming market could reach $40 bln a year
By Nathan Layne
TOKYO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Las Vegas Sands Corp Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson said on Monday his company was willing to spend "whatever it takes" to set up a casino project in Japan, one of the largest untapped gaming markets in the world.
Las Vegas Sands is considered a strong candidate to win a license in Japan, should the country open its market to casino gambling, in large part due to the success of its resort in Singapore which has served as a model for Japanese lawmakers.
But with every major global operator targeting Japan, competition is sure to be fierce. U.S.-based MGM Resorts International, Malaysia's Genting Bhd and Macau casino venture Melco Crown Entertainment are among those also pushing hard for a crack at the market.
"Would I put in $10 billion? Yes," Adelson said at a media briefing during an investor seminar in Tokyo. "Would I rather do it at 7? Yes."
Broker CLSA estimates Japan could generate $40 billion in gaming revenues a year, assuming two large integrated resorts are set up in Tokyo and Osaka and 10 smaller sites open across the country in places such as the northern island of Hokkaido and Okinawa to the south.
That would make Japan Asia's second-largest market for gambling after Macau, which the brokerage said is set to rake in $51 billion this year.
GOING IT ALONE?
Slot machine and game makers Sega Sammy Holdings and Konami Corp and broadcaster Fuji Media Holdings are among the Japanese companies that have shown an interest in the casino business.
When asked if he would take on Japanese companies as equity partners, Adelson said he "wouldn't be that happy" but he did not rule out the prospect.
He touted his company's industry-leading market capitalization of $66 billion and said Las Vegas Sands didn't need to bring in others to share the burden of investment.
"These people can't keep up. But I'm not ruling it out. I'm keeping my mind open to see whether or not a fair and reasonable partnership deal can be worked out," he said.
A group of Japanese lawmakers submitted an initial promotional bill to parliament in December to legalise gambling, with expectations that it will be debated around May. If that passes, the proposal will go into a second bill with concrete regulations, which proponents hope can be passed in 2016.
If this two-step legislation process goes smoothly, casino backers say the first resort could be opened in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.