The Labour Challenge for Japan’s Casino Resorts

Integrated casino resorts are moving closer to becoming a reality in Japan. While the Integrated Resort (IR) Implementation Bill was passed by Japan’s Diet last summer, it is anyone’s guess as to when the actual licenses, expected to be granted in Osaka, Tokyo, and Yokohama, will be awarded. In addition to one or two local Japanese firms such as Sega Sammy and Konami, the likes of global casino players MGM, Las Vegas Sands, Wynn and Caesars, are all pitching and lobbying furiously to win one of the coveted sites. Forecast to become the second largest gaming market in the world after Macau, and at least twice as large as Singapore, Japan has tentatively edged over the last few years towards legalising casino resorts while at the same time seeking to impose certain limitations in order to appease a nation concerned with the dangers of gambling addiction. Industry and government are making a concerted effort to overturn a negative perception of gaming and to better educate the general public on what exactly an IR comprises. In other words, pitching them as large scale entertainment venues centred on a comparatively small casino - in fact only up to 3% of floor space will be devoted to gaming. The huge amounts of patience, money and resources required on the part of these hopeful casino groups to get this far in the bidding process gives some idea as to the size of the potential payoff that is on offer. It is the resort nature of these casinos – no less than 100,000 square meters of guest room space and exhibition and conference facilities of between 120,000 and 200,000 square meters – that will provide operators with one more challenge however, namely that of labour. When Singapore took the plunge into the IR world and opened ResortsWorld and Marina Bay Sands it saw the creation of 20,000 jobs. In Macau employment connected to gaming, both directly and indirectly, accounts for 3 in every 4 jobs. One can assume that the eventual integrated resorts in Japan will therefore employ tens of thousands of people, but where will they come from? As is widely document, Japan has a rapidly ageing population and an ever falling birth rate. At the same time, the country is experiencing year-on-year record levels of inbound foreign tourist numbers compounded by the forthcoming Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Contrary to many countries around the world which are currently looking to tighten their immigration policies, Japan, faced with the need to desperately find more workers to fill jobs, has been forced to look at loosening its traditionally strict immigration laws in order to allow more foreign labour into the country. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has seen parliament accept his proposal that will open the door to 300,000+ immigrant workers between now and 2025 to the benefit of the agriculture, nursing, construction, and food and hospitality sectors. There are still however some hurdles to entry, namely:
  • the visa will be for a maximum period of 5 years
  • the applicant will not be allowed to bring family members with them
  • applicants will also need to demonstrate Japanese language proficiency
In addition to assessing language ability, the government is also making a test for each field of work, the first of which for the hospitality sector will be ready in April 2019. Furthermore, companies recruiting foreign workers will have a duty of care that includes assisting the workers find housing and take language classes. Currently there are an estimated 1.28 million foreign workers in Japan, 1% of the total population. Of these roughly a third come from China with other significant numbers coming from Vietnam, Philippines, Brazil and Nepal. As is the case for the broader hotel sector in Japan, the ability to recruit and train sufficient numbers of staff will be a real challenge for those casino operators that successfully land an IR licence. Some are already taking measures to address this such as hiring Japanese staff to work in their operations in other locations with a view to returning them to Japan when the time is right. A potential source of labour will no doubt be staff currently in regional casino markets – Australia, Macau, Philippines, Singapore – provided operators are prepared to invest in the necessary Japanese language training and to provide assistance with housing and integration. In Japan itself casino schools have begun to pop up to train the croupiers of the future but numbers are small and the negative perception of gaming makes it difficult to attractive prospective employees of the future. The greatest volume of roles to be filled will be those focused on delivering world class guest experience in the areas of hotel, restaurants, meetings and events, and entertainment. To that end, Japan’s government may find itself being pressured to further relax its immigration laws while foreign casino groups seek to stockpile well trained employees elsewhere in readiness of deployment to the Land of the Rising Sun.