After retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1991, I remained in Japan working for a Japanese trading company in Tokyo. A few years later my boss asked me to accept a short-term assignment in Las Vegas working for Kazuo Okada, founder and President of then privately-owned Universal Sales Co., in Tokyo. My job was to manage marketing and sales, final assembly, installation and service of Japan-manufactured Universal slot machines throughout North America. Our company name there was Universal Distributing of Nevada (UDN).
Throughout the 1990s, Universal Sales served as a major supplier of machines to the bustling Japanese pachinko industry. In 2000 Okada was introduced to Las Vegas-based casino magnate Steve Wynn, eventually investing $380 million in Wynn’s then-new company, Wynn Resorts, and becoming its Vice Chairman. Wynn’s previous company was Mirage Resorts, which he sold to MGM Resorts, all in Las Vegas. Okada held a vacant lot on “the strip”, which he eventually sold to MGM for $30 million; MGM eventually built the New York, New York Casino on it.
Wynn Resorts opened its first casino in 2005 in Las Vegas and a second one in 2006 in Macau. In 2008, Wynn declined to join Okada in a major investment to build a casino in Entertainment City in Manila. In fact, Wynn accused Okada of double-crossing Wynn Resorts, since Manila is as short flight from Hong Kong International Airport, which services Hong Kong as well as Macau. Okada proceeded alone with the investment, forming a local company, Tiger Resort, Leisure and Entertainment, Inc., to handle the development of the Manila property. In July 2016, the property was unveiled as the Okada Manila, a $2.4 billion integrated hotel, resort and casino that represents Okada’s biggest investment to date.
While I was with UDN, gaming in the USA underwent explosive growth. In 1986 the U.S. Congress had passed the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA). It authorized casinos to be operated on Tribal lands throughout the USA. At that time only two states, Nevada and New Jersey, had authorized casinos. IGRA was a great move for many Indian Tribes. I heard Plains Indian Tribal elders describe IGRA as “the second buffalo”, referring to their nomadic nature of following the buffalo herds – for food and clothing!
Many states and provinces in the USA and Canada, respectively, jumped on the casino bandwagon for the first time. Most of the states along the Mississippi River gave rebirth to riverboat gambling. So gaming was truly a booming industry and a great experience for such a square guy as me.
When Okada visited the USA, it was my job to meet him and get him to wherever he needed to go. When he had business in New Jersey, we stayed at Trump Taj Ma Hal Casino. We never met the owner, and I did not know the financials, but it appeared to be an excellent casino. Being a sailor, of course the ocean front was special for me. It turned out that Trump took that casino through two bankruptcies, and eventually sold it at considerable loss.
Both Nevada and New Jersey had earlier eliminated Mafia associations, and the new gaming jurisdictions seemed to be doing a good job at it, too. I had to be fingerprinted for every gaming jurisdiction where UDN did business (I seem to remember 34). For example, as an example of diligence, a Mississippi State Trooper came to my office in Las Vegas. Among the things he asked me was to explain every deposit listed in my personal bank account.
In 2017 Okada was accused of “misappropriating millions of dollars” from his holding company Okada Holdings. Universal Entertainment Corporation (publically owned and listed on the Tokyo Stock Market Second Section) subsequently removed him from his chairman position by convincing his family members to vote him out of his Okada Holdings leadership role.
Charges of misappropriating funds filed against Okada with the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption and Paranaque City Regional Court in Manila by the Universal Entertainment Corporation have since been dismissed. In a statement released in September 2018, Okada said “These trumped-up charges were merely meant to harass me and justify my illegal ouster. Far from being valid cases, their baseless accusations only serve to demonstrate the grand conspiracy perpetrated by my detractors who betrayed my trust,” and vowed to continue fighting for reinstatement as director, chairman and chief executive officer of the company.
Okada is a collector of Japanese, Chinese and Korean art. He opened his own art museum in 2013 near the hot-springs resort of Hakone, south-west of Tokyo.
Retrieved from Wikipedia 2019.12.23 and amended based on experience of the author and previous Wall Street Journal coverage.