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World’s biggest fish market may end up as casino

TOKYO — MGM Resorts International has scouted the world’s biggest fish market as a potential site for the casino resort it wants to build in Japan, according to two people familiar with the company’s plans.

Chief executive James Murren visited Tsukiji market in March to survey the sprawling warren of fish stalls on about 57 acres that the city may sell after the vendors relocate, the people said.

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The market draws about 42,000 visitors daily. Many come to see morning auctions at which $4.1 billion worth of seafood, including some of the world’s most expensive tuna, is sold each year. The eating stalls around the nearly 80-year-old covered market are popular places to enjoy sushi breakfasts.

The site, one of the largest ever offered for redevelopment in Japan’s capital, is near a luxury shopping enclave, Ginza. It would be an alternative to the Odaiba district, which is seen as the top contender for a gaming resort. Land costs would be higher, but Tsukiji promises greater visitor numbers due to its accessibility by public transit and its proximity to other tourist destinations, said Jay Defibaugh, an analyst with CLSA.

‘‘Tsukiji, in terms of accessibility, is almost unrivaled in Tokyo,’’ Defibaugh said. Even with higher costs, casino operators would find the site ‘‘very appealing,’’ he added.

Stock of Tsukuji Uoichiba Co., the seafood wholesaler that runs the site, soared as much as 26 percent Tuesday before closing up 11 percent.

Tokyo’s government decided in 2001 to relocate the market to a less cramped facility being constructed on reclaimed land in Tokyo Bay. The move has been delayed in part because toxic soil must be removed from the new site.

Tokyo may sell the Tsukiji site after most of the 780 fish and vegetable vendors move. The new site is scheduled to be completed by early 2016.

Ed Bowers, an MGM senior vice president, said the company would need at least 30 acres to build a casino resort. He declined to discuss sites, saying Odaiba and Tsukiji were among several that have ‘‘surfaced.’’

‘‘Ultimately, it’s really the city that has the say on where they would like this thing to be,’’ Bowers said.

While the city sees the land’s sale as a likely outcome, it has not yet decided what the site’s best use would be, including whether it would be an appropriate location for a casino resort, said Tadashi Sato, who manages the city’s urban policy division.

A few potential buyers have expressed interest in the site, said Sato, who declined to identify them.

Las Vegas-based MGM is among the big casino operators, including Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Caesars Entertainment Corp., that have said they are prepared to spend billions to build a casino in the world’s third-largest economy.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, said in June that his ruling party would seek to pass a casino-legalization bill in the fall. The current legislation asks the government to create a legal framework for casinos within one year of the law’s enforcement. A subsequent bill detailing rules for casino operations would need to pass.

Odaiba, which is reclaimed land about 3.1 miles from the business district around the city’s main train station, was ‘‘anointed’’ as the location for a hoped-for casino by a former Tokyo governor, Shintaro Ishihara, in 1999, according to Defibaugh.

‘‘The birthplace of the casino push was really in Odaiba,’’ he said.

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