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South Korean casino industry prepping to hold off latest Japan competition

| By iGB Editorial Team | Reading Time: 2 minutes
The newest casino resort in South Korea, Mohegan Gaming’s Inspire, could help the local gaming industry fend off competition from Japan writes Marjorie Preston. A researcher says the industry needs a promotional push, too.
inspire arena korea

Long before Singapore, Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Connecticut defined the integrated resort (IR) concept.

The second largest IR in the US, behind WinStar World Casino in Oklahoma, Mohegan Sun opened in 1996. It offers a mind-boggling mix of gaming and non-gaming attractions: two casinos, two luxury hotels, a sprawling retail district, dozens of food and beverage outlets, plus clubs, spas, pools and 375,000sq ft of meeting space.

Now the tribal gaming powerhouse is showing Korea how it’s done. Its $1.4bn Mohegan Inspire in Incheon, South Korea officially debuted in March. It is being called the new model for IRs in the country and part of the government’s plan to boost international tourism from 11 million to 20 million visitors per year.

It couldn’t come soon enough for the market, which is bracing for competition from Japan. In 2030, MGM Osaka, a project of MGM Resorts International and its Japanese partner, financial services firm Orix Corp, will open Japan’s first legal casino. Just 90 minutes away by air, MGM Osaka will be vying for the same pool of international customers.

Upping the ante

Before Inspire, other Korean casino resorts laid claim to the IR label. Paradise City, also in Incheon, opened in 2014 with a hotel, theme park and meeting and convention facilities. Jeju Shinhwa World on Jeju Island, in operation since 2018, is a Marriott property with a hotel, theme park and water park.

Inspire has raised the stakes. The property has three hotel towers, a 15,000-seat multi-purpose arena, the nation’s largest ballroom, a glass-domed water park and a massive outdoor entertainment park.

But Osaka will bring formidable competition. Set on Yumeshima Island in Osaka Bay, host destination for the 2024 World Expo, the $8.5bn megaresort will feature three lavish hotels, 730,000sq ft of conference and exhibition space, a retail district, entertainment venues and a Japanese cultural museum spanning 700 acres. MGM president and CEO Bill Hornbuckle says it will “bring MGM’s ‘wow’ DNA from Las Vegas to Osaka”.

Korea already behind the 8-ball

In a recent Korea Times opinion piece, Osaka research scientist Yang Hyung-eun said now is the time for Korea to step up its game. He claims the country has waited too long to advance its IR industry, emphasising regulation over promotion. He called for a “white paper” to lay out strategy ahead of MGM Osaka.

Yang says Japan gaming will pose a significant threat to Korea, which could be amplified if the Japanese government licenses additional IRs. (Nagasaki tried and failed to win one of three available licences, but Tokyo is often mentioned as a possible location.)

“The innovation of the Korean casino industry begins with a shift to the integrated resort industry policy in terms of future growth,” the researcher wrote. “Now is the time for a future vision and philosophy” for the South Korean casino industry.

Meanwhile, Inspire, which launched a soft opening in November 2023, is already making its mark. According to the New London Day, in the fiscal year that ended 31 March, it contributed $35.9m of a record $461.7m in net revenue for the Mohegans. CBRE analysts say it could achieve positive cash flow by early 2027.

At Inspire’s grand opening last March, Mohegan Gaming president and CEO Ray Pineault said the IR near Incheon International Airport will “set a new benchmark in hospitality and entertainment, welcoming guests from around the globe”.

Hopefully, it will also bring them back to Korea, even after Japan opens for business.

Written by Marjorie Preston

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