Melco bets on Japanese culture as casino debate heats up

Wed Dec 18, 2013 2:28am EST
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By Nathan Layne and Farah Master

TOKYO/HONG KONG (Reuters) - Casino operator Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd on Wednesday said it had pledged $10 million for cultural projects in Japan, a signal of its commitment to the country as lawmakers take steps to legalize casino gambling.

Melco is one of several global casino operators including Las Vegas Sands lobbying for a position in the Japanese market, seen as the next big Asian gaming opportunity after the spectacular rise of Macau.

The Hong Kong-listed, Macau-based casino operator made no mention of its commercial interest in Japan when it announced its commitment to Tokyo's University of the Arts, although its desire to participate in any liberalization of the Japanese industry is well known.

"Melco really wants to do something to help contribute to cultural development in Japan. There is no defined set period for the commitment," company spokeswoman Maggie Ma said.

Japan is widely considered one of Asia's largest untapped markets after Macau, the world's biggest gambling hub. Industry analysts predict Japan could rake in $15 billion in annual gaming revenues, making it the second-biggest market globally.

Melco, controlled by Ho and Australian billionaire James Packer, said in a press release that it would contribute 1 billion yen, or roughly $10 million, on projects in coordination with the university.

The projects include research on urban development and a "Kimono Culture" event early next year.

In a written response to questions from Reuters, the university said the donation was unrelated to the ongoing debate about legalizing casino gaming.   Continued...

The new Melco Crown Entertainment gaming resort City of Dreams and the first Hard Rock Hotel in Macau are illuminated during its opening ceremony June 1, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu