If Hollywood movies reflect the evolving image of casinos — think Ian Fleming’s suave James Bond to Martin Scorsese’s Las Vegas mobsters — the next image iteration is wave pools, Michelin-starred restaurants, retail therapy and plenty for the kids.
The casino business has been reinventing itself around entertainment for all the family and the next bet on the market to take that model to a whole new level is Japan.
Tokyo passed legislation last year in the first step to legalizing casinos and the prize is estimated at about US$25 billion in annual revenue to be sliced between companies that win licenses. Michael Mecca has had a front row seat to how the casino industry has evolved during his more than 35 years in the business, from the US to Australia and now Macau as president of the Galaxy Entertainment Group.
Nowadays, you can be in a casino resort and never see the casino, he said during a recent stopover in Tokyo.
“That’s very very different from the days of old where you were prompted to drag your suitcase through the middle of the casino to get in the lift to go to your room.” Mecca pointed to the company’s flagship property, Galaxy Macau, as an example of the industry’s drive to become more family-friendly.
The massive complex contains six hotels, from Ritz-Carlton to Japan’s Okura, 100 restaurants, 200 retail stores, and a huge resort deck that includes a wave-pool and waterslides.
Still, Japan’s public remain wary of the government’s push to legalize casinos amid fears about gambling addictions and organized crime.
A poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s biggest daily newspaper, indicated two-thirds of respondents opposed the first legislation that passed in parliament in December to allow what are called integrated resorts wrapped around a casino.
Mecca says gaming operators are well aware of such concerns though he believes it’s based on an outdated view of the industry.
“We understand the sentiment and feel it’s our responsibility to assist the government in going into the community and assisting the citizens in understanding it is not about Martin Scorsese movies,” he said during an interview in Tokyo.
“It is a very different business.” Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is a supporter and has argued the development of integrated resorts will attract foreign tourists and provide jobs and revenue to struggling regional economies.
The government is now working on a second bill to flesh out the details of how the industry would function in Japan.