Gaming tycoon needs spin doctor


Even Kazuo Okada’s publicity team will have difficulty spinning this into good news for the troubled Japanese gaming billionaire. But let me help them try.

The Philippines Department of Justice this week recommended charging Okada, the ousted co-founder of Wynn Resorts, and 25 others with violations of the country’s “anti-dummy” law when they created shell corporations to acquire real estate for his proposed $2 billion Entertainment City Project in Manila.

But, wait, I can almost hear his spin doctors saying. There’s also good news. The DOJ and National Bureau of Investigation failed to level bribery charges in connection with Okada’s business dealings with a former consultant to the Philippines Amusement and Gaming Corp. (PAGCOR), which regulates casino activity in that country.

On the positive side, they might add, the fact-finding panel that investigated “possible graft and corrupt acts and/or other irregularities that may have attended” lacked sufficient evidence for bribery charges related to Okada’s successful attempt to win PAGCOR approval.

See? That’s almost something to celebrate.

Yeah, almost.

Those government investigators did, however, determine there was sufficient evidence to charge Okada’s company with violating the country’s “anti-dummy” law. That’s not a statement about the collective IQ of Okada’s Filipino foray in association with his Entertainment City Project casino plan. It’s a law put in place to help protect Philippine businesses.

Not to spoil the spin, but something tells me investigators haven’t closed their bribery inquiry. In a statement, the DOJ offered, The “facts and evidence gathered thus far are insufficient to justify the filing of bribery charges.”

Gathered thus far — sounds like they’re keeping that file open.

Fact is, bribes are difficult to prove. The conspirators rarely have an incentive to implicate themselves by squealing on the other guy. And so we may never seen it proven in court that Okada’s people bought important political alliances and greased the wheels in the Philippines on behalf of Universal’s big casino plans.

Not that the anti-dummy corporation violations are something Okada’s team will be able to laugh off. Not only is Universal in hot water in the Philippines, but its challenges in Nevada aren’t over, either. Okada made much of his fortune selling slot machines to major casino corporations based in Nevada. And in Nevada, casino corporations’ licenses depend on maintaining their reputations.

If there comes a time his reputation is so sullied by multiple investigations that it reflects on the industry he does business with, the Nevada Gaming Control Board will surely be compelled to act. And that could be ruinous for Okada’s gaming machine empire.

Some of Okada’s problems have been illuminated with assistance from an investigative group led by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

The report has become a centerpiece in a nasty litigation between Okada and Wynn, who has successfully ousted his former partner and “best friend” from Wynn Resorts. But the trouble with Okada blaming every cloud in the sky on Wynn’s rainmaking abilities is simple: The Japanese billionaire made much of the trouble he now finds himself in.

And just because the Philippine investigators are recommending charges doesn’t mean the FBI’s ongoing criminal investigation into possible violations of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is ending soon. There are challenges ahead that could sink Okada’s company.

The spreading mess appears to have gotten under Okada’s seemingly impervious skin. Rather than mount a better case against Wynn or his associates, he instead lashed out against the Reuters News organization for reporting developments in the investigations in the United States and the Philippines. Even Okada’s accusation that Wynn’s $135 million donation to Macau University was highly suspicious was shot down by state and federal investigators.

Despite all his business acumen and undeniable success, this is one game the casino gaming kingpin appears ill suited to play.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at jsmith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. http://www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/john-l-smith