Tribes both have interest in developing casino in Japan

Southeastern Connecticut’s gaming tribes could be among the first operators to vie for casino licenses in Japan.

Felix Rappaport, Foxwoods Resort Casino’s president and chief executive officer, confirmed Tuesday that he attended last week’s two-day Japan Gaming Congress in Tokyo, where Mario Kontomerkos, his Mohegan Sun counterpart, made a pitch for a casino license.

Kontomerkos, who was unavailable Tuesday, indicated through a spokeswoman that Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, Mohegan Sun’s parent, has entered a bid for a regional license in Japan.

In an email, Jennifer Ballester, MGE’s director of corporate communication, cited similarities between Mohegan Sun and the “Japanese regional resort concept,” including MGE’s history of operating standalone resorts in regional markets “with modest populations, which drive strong visitation from distant metro areas.”

“As a development partner we see much synergy between our development in Korea, Project Inspire, and our future resort in Japan,” Ballester wrote, referring to MGE’s development of an integrated entertainment resort at Incheon International Airport near Seoul, South Korea. The first phase of the project is scheduled to open in 2021. MGE also owns and operates Mohegan Sun Pocono in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and manages casinos in Atlantic City; La Center, Wash., and Marksville, La.

The Mashantucket Pequots, who own Foxwoods, and the Mohegans are partners in an East Windsor casino project.

In a phone interview, Rappaport said his attendance at last week's event in Tokyo came during his third visit to the Asian country in the last two years. Rodney Butler, the chairman of the Mashantucket Tribe, which owns Foxwoods, previously has traveled to Japan, as have other Mashantucket officials, Rappaport said.

“Probably every major gaming operation in the world, including us and Mohegan Sun, was there,” Rappaport said. “We are looking at Japan no differently than we would look at any other wonderful opportunity, domestic or international.”

The Mashantuckets long have sought to achieve geographic diversity and have pursued gaming licenses in a number of states. In 2016, the tribe announced plans to partner on the development of a $265 million casino in Biloxi, Miss. Rappaport said the tribe still is seeking financial partners for that project.

Rappaport said the Foxwoods model is consistent with what Japanese officials are seeking. He said the Japanese government is expected to issue at least three licenses in geographic areas that have yet to be determined. He said it probably would be 2022 or 2023 or later before a casino opens in Japan.

Recreating Foxwoods would cost between $2 billion and $3 billion, he said.

“We wouldn’t duplicate Foxwoods, but we have everything they’re looking for when they talk about an integrated resort,” Rappaport said. “In addition to gaming, they want convention space, resort (amenities), restaurants, entertainment, nightlife. ... We have a lot of operating experience and a huge database (of patrons).”

“We believe the best path to success for any company would be to have Japanese partners, in particular,” he said.

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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