Okada wins California license in spite of probe

Christian B. Bautista
Kazuo Okada, who is facing bribery allegations due to payments to a Pagcor consultant, was awarded a gaming license in California

LICENSED. Kazuo Okada says winning a California license shows he is "suitable" for the gaming industry. This photo shows the artist's rendition of the Manila Bay Resorts

MANILA, Philippines – Japanese businessman Kazuo Okada, who is the subject of an FBI investigation over alleged illegal payments to a former Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) consultant, was awarded a gaming license in California.

The gaming resource supplier license came from the California Gambling Control Commission (CGCC), the regulatory body for gambling establishments and tribal casinos in the US state. The license was awarded to Okada’s Aruze Gaming America (AGA).

“I am pleased that the California Gambling Control Commission granted a Gaming Resource Supplier license to Aruze Gaming America (my wholly owned subsidiary) and its principals,” Okada said in a press release on Wednesday, April 17.

Okada is set to open a $2-billion casino resort in Pagcor’s Entertainment City. The Manila Bay Resorts project, which is through his company Universal Entertainment, is scheduled for completion in 2014.

A Reuters report published in November 2012 said that Okada paid Pagcor consultant Rodolfo “Boysee” Soriano $5 million as he gained concessions for his company’s Manila casino. Soriano is a close associate of former Pagcor chair Efraim Genuino. The payment was part of $40 million in transfers from Universal Entertainment’s affiliate Aruze USA.

Universal broke ground for its casino project in 2012. Pagcor chair Cristino Naguiat Jr. said that the company would be stripped of its license once evidence of bribery is found.

In a later interview with Rappler, Naguiat called the Okada probe a “blessing in disguise.” He added that the case has helped publicize his agency’s Entertainment City project.

Okada said that the new California license proves he is “suitable” to continue working in the gaming industry.

“Granting us this license represents yet another instance in which I’ve received new gaming licenses in North America since February 18, 2012, when Wynn Resorts Ltd. brought suit against me in Nevada State Court. Since that time, I have received new gaming licenses in 18 jurisdictions where AGA was not previously licensed, including in Arkansas; Ontario, Canada; and from 16 American Indian tribes. Also since that time, AGA has obtained renewal approval for five state licenses in Arkansas; Alberta, Canada; Florida; Mississippi; and Oklahoma, and had more than 50 of its American Indian tribal licenses renewed. Each of these new licenses and renewals has been based on a determination that I am ‘suitable’.

“AGA currently holds 43 licenses with American Indian tribes that operate casinos in California. Given AGA’s sales volume in the California marketplace, and the positive market response to AGA’s slot machines and gaming devices, AGA was obligated to seek a state-wide license. Business momentum is strong and, thanks to the approval from the CGCC, we look forward to continuing our solid growth in California and across the U.S. market.”

Aruze Gaming America established a global manufacturing plant in Manila in 2009. Last December, Universal Entertainment entered into an agreement with Gokongwei property unit Robinson’s Land Corp. for developing the Manila Bay Resorts. – Rappler.com