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Gaming mogul Packer retreats from Japan plans

© AFP | Tycoon James Packer said plans for gaming empire Crown to expand into the lucrative Japanese market were "off the table"

SYDNEY (AFP) - 

Tycoon James Packer Monday said plans for gaming empire Crown to expand into the lucrative Japanese market were "off the table" as the company focuses on developing a flagship Sydney casino.

The Australian billionaire outlined his interest several years ago in building a resort-casino in Japan to tap the country's love of gambling.

But the firm is now pursuing a restructure amid a Chinese gambling crackdown, exiting its holding in Melco Resorts in Macau this year and shelving plans for a Las Vegas casino.

Packer said he did not want management "distracted" by participating in any competitive bidding process to build an integrated resort in Japan, should a casino licence become available in Yokohama.

"There isn't a great opportunity to get back into Vegas. And there isn't an opportunity to get back into Macau. I don't want our management to be distracted," he told The Australian newspaper.

"People talk to me about Japan. I don't believe it is realistic for us to win a licence in Japan."

Asked if that meant a Crown resort in Japan was off the table, Packer replied: "It is off my table. But I am only one director and I haven?t had the conversation with the board.

"I am not saying 'no forever', but what I am saying 'no' to is writing a Aus$500 million or Aus$1 billion cheque to go into Japan next week."

Japan has long been viewed as the Holy Grail of Asian gaming because of its wealthy population, proximity to China and appetite for other forms of legal gambling, including horse racing and pachinko, a slot machine-style game.

The newspaper said the international casino industry was still waiting to see a formal bill setting out the main principles under which Japan's casino industry would be run.

Crown is undergoing a revamp after 19 current and former employees were held for 10 months in China on charges of luring rich Chinese to Australia. They were released in August.

The case hurt Crown's high roller revenues, with anti-corruption laws in China banning organising gambling activities overseas for wealthy Chinese.

The company is now focusing on its casinos in Melbourne and Perth and developing a Aus$2.4 billion ($1.9 billion) gaming resort in Sydney which Packer called the "most important building built in Australia for a long time".

© 2017 AFP