Connecticut headquartered Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment has made no secret of its desire to spread its wings beyond its traditional US base of late, with Japan in particular a target for many international land-based operators.
As the $5bn Project Inspire continues to be constructed in Incheon, South Korea, Mohegan has recently added Greece to its list of international targets alongside Japanese ambitions centred around the Hokkaido prefecture, where it’s believed Rush Street Gaming and Hard Rock International have also set their respective sights.
It’s the potential of the latter that is garnering much attention, with a plethora of headlines emanating week after week.
To that end, CasinoBeats spoke to Mario Kontomerkos, CEO of MGE, to find out what impact on the Japanese economy integrated resorts will have, why the company has thrown its hat into the ring and why an early Asian start in Korea could aid potential moves in the land of the rising sun.
“One of the main objectives for integrated resorts is to quell the depopulation trends”
CasinoBeats: How beneficial do you believe integrated resorts will be for Japan and its economy?
Mario Kontomerkos: The roots of the IR bill in Japan focused on both driving international tourism to Japan and diversifying tourism away from the Golden Route, which is the area spanning Tokyo to Osaka. The Golden Route region accounts for over 90 per cent of tourists visiting Japan today.
In addition to attracting visitors, one of the main objectives for integrated resorts is to quell the depopulation trends in these rural areas of Japan by providing unique and exciting opportunities and reasons to remain.
We believe that integrated resorts in Hokkaido will address each desire of the IR bill, while also being highly beneficial to the overall Japanese economy and especially beneficial to the Hokkaido economy. Integrated resorts will employ thousands of local residents and rely primarily on local partners to help support daily operations.
Not to mention, a project of this scale will also provide local and regional construction workers with more than three years of work. Finally, of course, the region will also benefit from its share of taxes from the casino.
The island of Hokkaido has an expanding international reputation as a premier winter sports destination, and we couldn’t be more excited to have the opportunity to contribute to this ripe tourism market.
“Few places in Japan are more sensitive to the environment than Hokkaido”
Integrated entertainment resorts, like Inspire Hokkaido, showcase world-class entertainment and resort offerings for locals and visitors alike. We believe our integrated entertainment resorts will combine bespoke experiences with high-quality entertainment that provide immense benefits to the communities in which we operate.
“Respect for Mother Earth” has been a guiding principle for the Mohegan Tribe and Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment places a high importance on environmental preservation. Few places in Japan are more sensitive to the environment than Hokkaido, as the regions natural beauty is a source of pride for the region.
Additionally, we have a long-standing connection with the local and regional economy and community, providing revenue for the state, while also providing important community services for the local and regional community. Additionally, we believe we have a long track record of all the attributes that will be required to be successful in Japan and in Hokkaido.
CB: Why has MGE thrown its hat into the ring to occupy one of three IR’s? Why should MGE be chosen above other organisations?
MK: We believe that MGE is uniquely positioned to thrive in this environment, as it’s so reminiscent of our flagship experience at Mohegan Sun, Connecticut – where we are a stand-alone operator, operating in a four season’s environment.
This is in contrast to operators in markets such as Macau and Las Vegas, which are destinations supported by multiple operators and massive transportation infrastructure.
“We also believe we have a connection with the Ainu population in Hokkaido, the indigenous people of Japan”
Additionally, we are accustomed to driving visitation from 2-3 hours away, as it’s what we do every day (10-11 Million a year). Additionally, we have a long-standing connection with the local and regional economy and community, providing revenue for the state, while also providing important community services for the local and regional community. We believe that all these attributes will be required to be successful in Japan and in Hokkaido.
We also believe we have a connection with the Ainu population in Hokkaido, the indigenous people of Japan. The Mohegan’s have a long-standing tradition of cooperation with local governments and partners, while also supporting other indigenous populations around the world.
Finally, we are currently under development in Incheon, South Korea, with Inspire Korea. We believe that this development will allow for Inspire to drive a larger pool of foreign visitors to Japan, while also limiting the initial impact of the IR on the local population of Japan.
CB: What is the decision behind targeting Hokkaido? What benefits does the region have over others?
MK: I touched on this a little already, but the island is teeming with magnificent natural resources, breathtaking landscapes and an incredibly distinct culture. The island is touted as one of Japan’s best gourmet cuisine destinations as well.
The people of Japan have known about the secrets of Hokkaido for ages. It’s no mistake that the air route between Tokyo and Hokkaido is one of the busiest on the planet. During the winter, the region offers some of the best skiing on the planet. We believe there is an opportunity to further develop this industry.
“Inspire Korea will be an immense asset to the Hokkaido region”
During the summer, the region is an ideal location to escape the heat in Tokyo, Seoul or Shanghai. While there, visitors can enjoy a true culinary experience, as Hokkaido is known for its seafood, while it also heralded as the “bread-basket of Japan.”
CB: In terms of the IR itself, what features would MGE’s resort encompass?
MK: Inspire Hokkaido would be an integrated resort born of nature and truly unlike any other. A few of the features will include three deluxe hotel towers featuring 2,500 luxurious guestrooms of various styles, themes and class, as well as a cutting-edge, convertible arena for world-class entertainment and sporting events, internationally competitive convention facilities with convertible green space bringing meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibition opportunities outdoors
CB: Asia is very much a target for expansion for yourselves, with Inspire Korea also ongoing, how much would this development aid Japanese success?
MK: As the first true integrated entertainment resort in Northeast Asia, Inspire Korea will be an immense asset to the Hokkaido region. We’ve said in the past and we continue to believe that our US$5bn dollars invested at Incheon, the main hub of air travel for Northeast Asia and one of the world’s busiest airports, is an investment that also benefits large-scale tourism projects in nearby Japan.
Recall that we will be open in Korea for several years before Japan opens, and will have already developed relationships with millions of guests from the region, in addition to the tens of millions of additional guest relationships at our properties around the world.
That will be a big asset for us in terms of driving incremental tourism to Japan whether it be via cross marketing, arena shows, theme park visits, or other. Using our unique marketing technology, we will also be able to incentivise visits from our property in Hokkaido to other nearby Hokkaido tourist attractions, creating a virtuous economic cycle that benefits the entire island.