Suncity interested in right-fit partners for Japan IR bid

Privately-held Macau junket investor Suncity Group has told GGRAsia it is “open to considering” what it termed “appropriate” partners to pursue the brand’s casino-resort ambition in Japan’s Wakayama prefecture (pictured).

The Suncity brand has lately, via a Japan unit, submitted documentation to take part in Wakayama’s request-for-proposal (RFP) process in the latter community’s tilt at hosting a large-scale casino complex with other tourism facilities. Such schemes are known in that country as integrated resorts or IRs.

While the Suncity brand is not currently a casino operator in its own right – it has pending schemes involving such a role in Vietnam and another in the Philippines – it is presenting itself as being on the operator side of the equation.

Several investment analysts covering the gaming sector have suggested that foreign casino operators will have to find local partners to be able to bid for a casino licence in Japan. Those details are yet to be decided.

“For the Wakayama project, currently, Suncity Group Holdings Japan Ltd does not have a partner for the IR bid but it is open to considering appropriate candidates as partners who can contribute to the better and long-term development of the Suncity Wakayama IR,” a spokesperson from the brand stated in emailed remarks in response to an enquiry from GGRAsia.

A maximum of three casino resorts will be permitted nationally in a first phase of Japan’s gaming market liberalisation. After selecting a private-sector partner, eligible local governments will then need to apply – during the first seven months of 2021 – to the national government for the right to have such a project.

The Wakayama authorities have scheduled the end of August as the deadline for interested parties to submit final business proposals, with mid-November the target date for selecting a consortium. The local government’s designated site is a 23.61-hectare (58.3-acre) plot on an artificial island known as Marina City.

In its emailed response, Suncity Group described Wakayama prefecture also as the “right fit” for the company’s Japan IR plan, based on the travel times to the prefecture from Kansai International Airport and from Osaka city. In a presentation made last year involving a scale model of a possible Wakayama IR scheme, Suncity Group had said it was partnering with international architecture firm Aedas to build a “tailor-made” project in Wakayama prefecture.

“With Wakayama’s beautiful natural scenery and rich historical cultures, it can serve as a hub for local and regional tours, cultural performance and entertainment,” said the Suncity Group spokesperson. The source added that as neighbouring Osaka – a candidate in its own right for hosting a casino resort – had a “wide range of facilities and support for conventions and exhibitions, the two cities can serve as a key driving force in the development of the entire Kansai region”.

“This is what Alvin Chau [Cheok Wa], chief executive officer and director of Suncity Group, describes as ‘The Greater Kansai Synergy’,” the person added.

Elsewhere in Japan, the company has been planning a hotel project amid the Miyako Islands range, in the southern prefecture of Okinawa. Suncity Group Holdings Ltd – a Hong Kong-listed entity that is also headed by Mr Chau – had noted in previous filings that the project site is a plot of freehold land covering 108,799 sq metres  (1.17 million sq feet). It could feature 40 villas and a hotel with more than 100 rooms.

The Suncity brand is best known for supplying high-value Chinese casino gamblers in Macau and other Asia-Pacific casino markets. The listed company Suncity Group Holdings – which does not include any profit streams from Macau gambling junkets in its filed accounts – has in particular been spreading its gaming and hospitality investments into markets beyond Greater China.

“We hope it [the Okinawa hotel] could become an addition to Suncity’s travel products to enhance our customer stickiness,” the Suncity Group spokesperson stated in the latest remarks to us.

An anti-casino politician won control of the governorship of Okinawa in the autumn of 2018, appearing to rule out that community bidding to host an actual casino resort in Japan’s current round of market liberalisation.