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Theme Hotels, Gaming and Entertainment Centers, Convention Center for Okinawa

By: AmCham COLLEAGUE, American Chamber of Commerce in Okinawa

Date Posted: 2004-03-25

Reprinted by Permission

“Build it, and they will come.”

The idea’s not new, yet was immortalized a few years ago with a movie about baseball, “Field of Dreams”.

In Okinawa today, the dream is for a world class entertainment complex that will attract nearly six million visitors a year. It’s in the eye and hands of Koichiro Kokuba, Chairman of the Okinawa General Contractors Association and now Chairman of the newly formed Okinawa Gaming Entertainment World Project.

Kokuba envisions a 495,000 square meter complex that matches or exceeds the glitter and successes of Las Vegas. He wants to have it open in 2007. By comparison, the new Entertainment Center Resort is about the same side as Awase in Nakagusuku.

Three areas on Okinawa are being studied as the site for this project, which will have theme hotels, shopping centers, a convention center complex, entertainment centers attracting top performers from around the world, and gaming centers. The plan calls for plenty of parking and a monorail system to move people around the complex.

Tourists the Key

Kokuba notes that more than five million tourists visited Okinawa in 2003, and is expected to climb above 5.4 million this year. “The breakdown of the visitors shows that 95% of the visitors are domestic tourists,” he says, “which leaves only 5% of overseas tourists.”

He sees a marketing strategy targeting neighboring Asian metropolitan areas as necessary to enhance and promote local tourism. Not lost on Kokuba’s vision is the fact that a potential tourism market of more than 500 million people is within two flying hours of Okinawa.

Kokuba thinks the planned 24-hour year-around Okinawa Gaming Entertainment World will change the dynamics of the tourism base to encompass much of the Asia Pacific region as well as some American and European tourists.

His expectations on making Okinawa a tourist resort market are built around the favorable weather on the island, interest from major American entertainment enterprises, the easy reach of Asia’s major cosmopolitan areas, the already identified 8% tourism growth rate, and motivating the half-million potential tourists in the region to visit.

Something for Everyone

As with Las Vegas, the Okinawa Gaming Entertainment World is being designed to offer facilities, activities and entertainment for conventions, families, gambling, fine dining and more.

Kokuba says the project is expected to cost some ¥150 billion. His organization is developing investments with casino operators and investment companies.

Three gaming casino buildings will anchor the northern edge of the complex, accounting for an estimated ¥65.7 billion in revenues annually from some 2.2 million players. The three casinos will be operated by separate companies, and will feature American, Asian and European styles.

Five hotels totaling 3,000 rooms ring the complex. Four of the hotels are theme hotels, each with 500 rooms: “Legend of Mermaid”, “2000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “Moby Dick” and “Sinbad: From the Tales of 1001 Nights”. The other hotel is a business hotel adjacent to the Convention Center.

Kokuba says gambling activities will be restricted to the three gaming casinos, and that none will be allowed in the hotels or entertainment zones.

The Convention Center will cover 19,800 square meters, and provide facilities for 790,000 visitors annually. It is expected to generate some ¥250 million each year.

The Crystal Castle will be the focal point of the entertainment zone, providing full resort services, including family and adult entertainment including shows featuring the world’s leading performers. Promoters say the non-casino gaming activities will attract an estimated 2.19 million visitors a year, and will produce revenues in excess of ¥21.9 billion.

The other principal element of the resort is a 75,900 square meters shopping mall and restaurants center. Restaurants featuring a variety of international cuisines will join restaurants in the hotels in providing visitors virtually every imaginable dining experience. The mall is expected to attract an estimated 1.82 shoppers annually, spending some ¥9.1 billion.

Economic Impact

Kokuba is quick to point out that the new resort complex will bring plenty of jobs, and a lot of new tourism money to Okinawa.

Together, the Okinawa Gaming Entertainment Complex is projected to bring 5,900 new jobs. About 1,000 will be in the three casinos, 2,000 in the entertainment and attractions facilities, 2,000 in the hotels, 800 in the shopping mall and restaurants, and 100 at the Convention Center Hall.

New Laws to Allow Casinos

Kokuba explains there are special laws in the process of being changed which allow gaming casinos to be approved.

There is currently gambling on mainland Japan. Pachinko parlors, found throughout Okinawa, are considered an entertainment business, and the exchange houses where pachinko players cash in their winnings is covered by the “Pawn Shop Law”.

The Tokyo metropolitan government opened a promotional casino in October 2002 on the 45th floor of its government office building. That 1,000 square meter “special” casino has 39 slot machines and green tables.

At the time Tokyo okayed that casino, government officials offered statistics that the economic ripple effect for Tokyo could be as much as ¥220 billion, including creation of nearly14,000 new jobs if casinos are legalized in the metropolitan area.

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