Sands woos Japan with vision for top sports, concert venues

TOKYO — Casino and resorts operator Las Vegas Sands deployed David Beckham and other top sports, music and entertainment figures Wednesday in its effort to woo Japan as it prepares to issue licenses for casinos.

Japan's large and wealthy market is luring big-name casino operators who are sweetening their bids with promises of ultra-modern "integrated resorts." Las Vegas Sands says its plans include top-class concert and sports venues to lure tourists and help revive the country's leisure industry.

Las Vegas Sands Corp. President and COO Robert Goldstein began a news conference in Tokyo by expressing condolences over the shooting Sunday night that left at least 59 people dead.

"Our hearts are very heavy in Las Vegas and we are hoping for the best we can for the future for Las Vegas," Goldstein said.

"Our team there is working with government officials and with the people on the ground in Las Vegas to hope for a speed recovery. It was very difficult and tragic situation," he said.

Gaming industry leaders like Las Vegas Sands, MGM International and Wynn Resorts all have expressed keen interest in Japan, where late last year lawmakers approved a long-awaited law on "integrated resorts" that is the first major hurdle in allowing casinos to set up shop. Further enabling legislation is expected to take several more years.

Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama are among the cities said to be hoping for casino licenses.

Apart from Beckham, who enthused over his love for sea urchin egg, or "uni" sushi, the Sands' charm offensive included Irving Azoff, who has managed musicians such as The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac.

He called to the stage The Eagles' former guitarist Joe Walsh, who said he had loved to play at major Japanese venues such as Tokyo's Budokan over the decades but felt such facilities were not up to par for today's digitally and visually complex performances.

"The logistics to make a good performance in Japan are just too much. It's just too hard," Walsh said. "As an artist that's the way we feel. We feel sad because it's too hard to come here."

Building a state-of-the-art arena and other resort facilities will take billions but will bring in tourists as well as local audiences, said Tim Leiweke, the CEO of Oak View Group and former president and CEO of AEG, which owns Staples Center.

Leiweke, whose company is seeking to remodel Seattle's KeyArena to make it capable of hosting NBA and NHL teams, says he hopes to build an arena in Japan that would be on a par with Madison Square Gardens and attract major sporting events.

"The NBA needs that kind of facilities to make that kind of trip worth it," he said.

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