Las Vegas Sands says keen on Japan casino market

Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest gaming operator, is keen to build a casino in Japan once Asia’s richest economy moves to legalise casinos.

„We would be remiss as business people if we weren’t involved. There is literally limitless opportunity in Asia,“ Sands President and Chief Operating Officer William Weidner said on Wednesday on the sidelines of a signing ceremony between the Singapore government and the company, which is going to build a USD 3.6 billion casino in the city-state.

Lawmakers in Japan are in discussions to lift a ban on casino gambling.

„They themselves have said that they would grant casino licenses on an expedited basis by the end of 2007 if they were to go ahead with it,“ he said.

Judging by the popularity of pachinko slot machines in the country, Japanese gaming appetite would be staggering, Weidner said.

„They have 5 million pachinko machines for 124 million people and the United States has maybe 800,000 slot machines for 300 million people,“ he said.

The casino business is taking off in Asia, driven by explosive growth in the tiny Chinese enclave of Macau, the only city in gambling-mad China where casinos are legal.

Casino revenues in the region are expected to hit USD 13 billion this year, according to consultancy Globalysis.

Sands, which runs the Venetian in Las Vegas, is building its second casino resort in Macau.

Singapore scrapped a ban on casinos last year and in May chose Sands to build and operate the first of the city-state’s two casino resorts.

The project, scheduled to open by the end of 2009, is expected to be the costliest casino in the world.

Earlier this month, Sands obtained a USD 1.4 billion bridge loan for the project from a total of eight banks.

Weidner said Sands would seek project financing of around USD 3.6 billion, mainly in Singapore dollars, before September next year to refinance the bridge loan and fund construction.