Galaxy Entertainment, the Macau gambling giant, has firmly entered the bidding for a Japan casino license, heating up what is already turning into a hotly contested battle among gaming moguls for a slice of the pie in a country where casino gambling was only legalised at the end of last year. “We see loads of potential in the Japanese market and aim to win a casino license there in cooperation with Societe des Bains de Mer,” said Francis Lui, Galaxy’s vice chairman and the eldest son of billionaire tycoon Lui Che-woo, on the sidelines of the group’s annual general meeting on Thursday. The comments are likely to intensify a scrap that has already seen US-based Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and MGM Resorts, and Macau-based Melco Resorts & Entertainment say they expect to lay out plans for their first casino resorts in Japan, after the country’s parliament passed a bill legalising casinos in December. With Chinese tourists flocking to Japan in the tens of thousands monthly, top casino operators have set their sights on the nascent market after amassing enormous fortunes from Macau, the former Portuguese colony and now the world’s largest gambling enclave. In February, Melco chairman Lawrence Ho vowed at a forum to “spend whatever we need” to fulfil his goal of building integrated resorts in Japan. They are competing head to head for what is expected by brokerage Nomura to be only “two to three” licenses to be approved by the Japanese government. Estimating a Japan casino resort project could cost as much as US$10 billion to complete – more than doubling that of the Parisian property in Macau – American billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who chairs Las Vegas Sands and Sands China, has also noted Japan could bring “the ultimate in business opportunities”. Brokerage CLSA estimates Japan’s future casino sector to churn out over US$10 billion in annual gaming revenue, while Citigroup analysts suggest the market is likely to become the second-largest on the planet after Macau. The Japanese authorities are in the midst of drafting industry regulations due by December, including those on how to select locations and operators of integrated resorts which would combine casinos, hotels and malls. CLSA suggested new Japanese casino licenses could be granted later this year, with resorts likely to take until 2021 to open their doors, but not in time to coincide with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.