On Thursday, October 11 2018, a top Japanese government spokesperson reiterated earlier refutes on claims that Donald Trump had interfered in the Asian country’s bidding process for casino licences. This is supposed to have happened during February 2017 meeting that he had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, when the 45th United States President had only been in office for a month.
When Abe visited Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat, the President is supposed to have urged the Minister to consider Las Vegas Sands’ bid. Sheldon Adelson founded the casino and hospitality giant, and the business mogul is currently managing the operation. Adelson is one of the Republican Party’s largest donors and is said to have funded Trump’s campaign to the tune of over $20 million, so the potential conflict of interests is clear.
If the allegations are true, they raise questions of what Trump agreed to do for Adelson in the event that he was successfully elected to office. However, Prime Minister Abe denied the reports in the Diet’s July 2017 session after the story first surfaced a month earlier, in the Nikkei Asian Review. And the Japanese government’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yoshihide Suga, reminded reporters of that on October 11, before stating that there was nothing else to say on the matter.
The reiterations of Trump’s supposed meddling come amid the latest news on regulations surrounding Japan’s nascent legal gambling industry. In December 2016, the country passed a bill to legalise the activity.
Then, earlier in 2018, the Integrated Resort Implementation Bill was ratified. This set out the rules and protocols for operating casinos and stipulated that any interested parties could apply. The government will issue just 3 licences, and the casinos will have to form part of larger integrated resorts.
Las Vegas Sands is one of the companies looking to expand into the strict but potentially very lucrative Japanese company. A resort worth about $10 billion, similar to the Las Vegas Sands properties in Vegas, Singapore and Macau, is envisioned.
A spokesperson for the hospitality giant was, however, quick to emphasise his company’s experience running hotels and casinos in the Asia-Pacific region. He added that if the group was among the favourites for one of the coveted Integrated Resort Implementation licences, it was based on merit and not favours.