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Why James Packer is shadowing Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Fresh from his Mediterranean break, James Packer was almost the same colour as the dark maroon tie he wore to Parliament House on Tuesday to hear an address from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

His attendance was no accident.

Mr Packer will be following the Australian and Japanese prime ministers to Perth on Wednesday where Tony Abbott will be hosting Mr Abe at the billionaire's Perth casino. 

Just before Christmas, Mr Packer's Asian casino venture, Melco Crown, pledged to spend $10 million on "cultural projects" in Japan in partnership with Tokyo's University of the Arts.

"Melco really wants to do something to help contribute to cultural development in Japan," a spokeswoman for the company had said.


Mr Abe has introduced legislation to lift the country's ban on casinos as part of a planned build-up to Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, and Mr Packer’s casino group is one of many operators aggressively lobbying for access.

Forget about his Barangaroo win and his interest in Queensland’s casino market. Melco's calling card is a sign of what is at stake as it makes a play for what could become the world's most lucrative casino market outside of its home, Macau.

"The potential is huge," Melco Crown's co-chairman Lawrence Ho said last year. "If Japan opens up and allows integrated resorts in Tokyo, Osaka, the market could easily be in excess of $US10 billion to $US15 billion [$10.7 billion to $16 billion] or more."

The upper end of his forecast is not out of line with the expectations of analysts who are predicting big things for a market with a high degree of local wealth and a well-developed tourism industry.

To put it in perspective, Macau generated more than $US45 billion in revenue from its casinos last year.

Singapore is maturing but gambling revenue from its two casinos is expected to reach $US7 billion this year. This could put it ahead of the Las Vegas strip, which is expected to generate gambling revenues totalling $US6.5 billion this year, according to Citi.

"The Abe administration, which has popularity, stability and a track record of pushing forward into areas that were once thought to be anathema to public support, should be able to legalise casinos in Japan," CSLA gaming analysts said.

"We expect that this bill will be approved in the second quarter 2014," Citi analysts said.

While the case for casinos in Tokyo and Osaka is considered a forgone conclusion, CSLA said "over time, there could be as many as 10 casinos constructed in Japan's other regional locations like Okinawa".

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