Macau casino magnate Lawrence Ho dreams of a big win with his bet on Japan
The head of Melco Resorts sees Japan as the biggest opportunity to take his firm global, but he faces stiff competition in his quest for an operating licence
For Melco Resorts & Entertainment’s chairman and chief executive, Lawrence Ho Yau-lung, next June will be crunch time for his dream to extend his casino and entertainment empire to the new gambling frontier: Japan.
Tokyo is set to decide around June 2018 who will get licences to operate casinos after it legalised the business last year, and Ho sees the untouched market in the world’s third-largest economy as the biggest opportunity in his lifetime.
“Japan is an amazing place but it just got 20 million visitors a year. Look at Macau, it got well over 30 million visitors. Hong Kong got more than 40 million visitors,” Ho said in an interview. “There is a lot of potential in the market.”
The 40-year-old, whose net worth was put at US$2.6 billion by Forbes this year, is the son of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, who has largely retired from the business after suffering a fall in 2009.
The younger Ho wants to transform the traditional casino business into a hospitality and entertainment industry, and extend its reach outside Macau. It has already expanded to the Philippines and Russia with casino resort ventures, as China’s anti-corruption campaign that began in 2012 hurt the traditional gaming industry in Macau.
In June, it signed the first and only casino resort licence with the government of Cyprus.
“In our industry, there are so many legends. Like my father, Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn, they all created something,” said Ho. Adelson is founder of Las Vegas Sands Corp, the largest casino company in the US, while Wynn’s Wynn Resorts company operates casinos in Las Vegas and Macau.
Japan is a market that Ho believes could be a showcase for his company’s strategy of changing casinos from rooms packed with vending machines to high-end entertainment venues offering world-class shows and quality services.
He said it is time for his generation to make a change – “to improve the guest experience and to incorporate more technology into our services ... to use artificial intelligence and technology to customise the experience for customers.”
But Melco is facing competition for a Japan licence, with Adelson, Wynn and another Las Vegas-based casino operator, MGM Resorts International, all interested.
“We probably know (the result) by June,” said Ho.
Looking ahead, Ho said his goal is to turn Melco into an Asia-focused global hospitality and entertainment firm.
“But we want to do it wisely. We had many opportunities go into Las Vegas, But every time, we shied away from that (because) the greatest development opportunities for years to come will be in Asia,” he said.
“We have a strong Asian focus, and we are a brand that is well known in China,” said Ho.