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TOKYO, May 17 (Reuters) - The western Japanese city of Osaka could have a casino resort up and running by 2019, in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, if a bill to legalize casinos is approved by parliament this year, executives of MGM Resorts International said on Saturday.
“If the first bill passes in the fall of this year, you could have something up and ready to go in Osaka by the end of 2019,” Ed Bowers, MGM’s senior vice president for global gaming development, said in an interview for the Reuters Japan Summit.
Lawmakers have said they would like to see Japan’s first casino open in time for the Olympics to capture demand from the influx of visitors expected then. But hopes for achieving that timetable have dwindled in recent days with a bill legalizing casinos languishing on the parliament floor.
Bowers’ comments highlight the growing view that Osaka is more likely than Tokyo to be the first big city to host a casino should legislation pass and is perhaps the only hope for the pre-Olympics development of large-scale integrated resort.
Whereas the Tokyo government is busy preparing to host the 2020 Olympics and has yet to declare if it wants a casino for the capital, Osaka officials have been aggressively courting operators and have already chosen Yumeshima, a plot of reclaimed land on Osaka Bay, as the preferred development site.
MGM has shown officials a tentative plan for how it would develop Yumeshima, featuring two hotel towers with a total of 5,000 rooms, a 20,000 seat entertainment arena and a circular waterway inspired by the moat surrounding Osaka Castle.
The U.S. casino operator has also been sounding out local companies such as electronics giant Panasonic Corp about partnering in the project, although talks are at a preliminary stage, Bowers and Executive Vice President Alan Feldman said in the interview. Environmental technologies such as water management are among the areas where MGM envisions tapping the expertise of Japanese firms, Feldman said.
The biggest obstacle to these plans is getting the initial casino bill to a vote in parliament.
The initial bill, which sets the framework for deregulation and would be followed a year later by a second bill enacting concrete rules for site selection and operation, has taken a back seat to other legislation and faces opposition from some parties. Once considered a sure bet, lawmaker Sakihito Ozawa, a key casino supporter, said this week that he thought it now only had a “50-50” chance in the current session to June 22.
Feldman, who is in charge of government and industry affairs, said he was not surprised that other legislation has been given priority and expressed confidence the bill would get the green light later this year.
“I think it’s going to pass in the fall,” he said.
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For more summit stories, see Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Matt Driskill