Australian tycoon Packer sets sights on casino in Japan

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australian tycoon James Packer said on Friday he wants to expand his gaming empire into the lucrative Japanese market in the form of resort-casinos to tap the country's love of gambling.

The mogul, who already operates casinos in Melbourne, Perth and Macau and is planning complexes in Manila, Sydney and Sri Lanka, said Japan was his next big hope.

"I hope Japan comes up," he told The Australian newspaper.

"If Japan comes on it will be the second-biggest gaming market in the world. It has 100 million people who are all mad gamblers but they are all doing it through horse racing and pachinko.

"Japan is looking at the Singapore story," he added.

"Done wrong, gambling can be parasitic. But done right (through integrated resorts) it can be hugely additive.

"With integrated resorts done well, the good outweighs the bad. Singapore is proof of that."

Japan has long been viewed as the Holy Grail of Asian gaming because of its wealthy population, proximity to China and appetite for other forms of legal gambling, including horse racing and pachinko, a slot machine-style game.

A bill is expected to be submitted to the Japanese parliament later this year that, if passed, would pave the way for tie-ups with big name firms to build casinos in the country.

Brokerage firm CLSA said in a report earlier this year that should casino legislation pass, Japan could become one of the largest gaming jurisdictions in the world, surpassed perhaps only by Macau.

CLSA estimated that just two gaming resorts in Tokyo and another in the smaller city of Osaka could generate revenues of US$10 billion (S$12.6 billion) annually.

"Japan is two to three years before it all gets serious, which is perfect for us because we will have Macau Studio City open and the Philippines open," Mr Packer said.

"Crown Perth will be finished and Crown Sydney should be well under way, approvals pending. It is just going through the political process at the moment in Japan."

Since his father Kerry's death in 2005, Mr Packer has moved the family business away from its traditional media operations in Australia and focused on creating Crown, a worldwide gambling empire.

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