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Japan casino biometric monitoring could give Melco Resorts a licensing edge

Japan’s legislators continue to wrestle with the details of their casino legislation, even as the clock continues to tick away on the current legislative session.

On Tuesday, Bloomberg Politics quoted Kiyohiko Toyama, the casino point person for the conservative Buddhist-backed Komeito party – the junior partner in the Liberal Democratic Party’s governing coalition – saying his members wanted the government to authorize no more than three casinos, at least to start.

Last week, a vocal faction in the LDP’s Integrated Resorts (IR) Project Team advocated the approval of four to five casinos in the initial round, with a further 10 gaming venues possibly to follow. But Toyama said this larger initial number would make garnering the approval of Komeito members “extremely hard.”

Toyama insisted that Komeito wasn’t saying three casinos should be “the limit forever,” and that if Japanese society is still standing after the first three IRs have been operating a while, “we could increase it a bit.”

Toyama also suggested Komeito would seek a higher casino entry levy for local residents than the ¥2k (US$19) envisioned in the draft legislation unveiled last month. Surveys indicate interest in visiting casinos trails off significantly when the proposed entry levy is ¥3k or higher, but Toyama said Komeito would seek to mollify operators by pushing for lower casino taxes.

Japan hopes to approve its IR Implementation Bill – as well as a separate measure dealing with ways to offset the potential social harms of casino gambling – before the current legislative session expires on June 20.

Toyama said the coalition partners plan to start casino discussions in earnest next week, then hopefully emerge with finished legislation by the end of March and submit the bill to the Diet by mid-April.

BIOMETRICS TO GIVE MELCO RESORTS AN EDGE? Meanwhile, Jiji Press reported that Japan’s government is mulling the use of biometric technology to ensure that local residents adhere to proposed weekly and monthly casino visitation limits.

The original plan was to require Japanese residents to produce their My Number national identity cards to gain casino entry, but uptake of the card system has been slow. The government is now reportedly studying the use of facial and vein recognition technology to ensure more accurate monitoring of local residents’ casino visits.

The tilt toward biometrics likely has Melco Resorts & Entertainment (MRE) boss Lawrence Ho smiling ear to ear. Last December, Ho visited Tokyo to impress upon legislators his company’s keen interest in landing one of the highly coveted IR licenses and building MRE’s The City of the Future resort.

Part of this resort’s design is what Ho called “the world’s most advanced facial recognition technology for enabling responsible gaming and security.” Ho offered Japan’s government “back-end access to and data-sharing with these systems free of charge.”

The fact that Japan might accept Ho’s invitation could give MRE an edge in the competition for a Japanese IR license. Should the system be enshrined in the IR bill, Ho will hope Japan remembers who it was that offered this solution to their problem.

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