Gambling in Japan has a long history and differs a great deal from what is available in the United States. In this article, we will take a look at what forms of gambling exist, how they came about, and more about the gambling industry as it currently operates in Japan.
A Little Bit of History
Gambling, in general, goes back to the mid-17th century in Japan with a form of lottery. That came to an end in 1842 but following the Second World War, the Japanese government re-launched its version of a lottery program. The idea at the time was to use profits from that gaming activity to rebuild the country’s infrastructure that had been severely damaged during bomb attacks in the war. After 1907, Japan permitted gamblers to legally bet on specific sporting events. At the time, only horse riding and bicycle racing were sanctioned gambling activities in Japan. That was later expanded to include motorbiking and boat racing creating a total of four “Public Sports” where pari-mutuel wagering was considered legal.
The Gambling Options Today
There is only one legal online gambling portal in Japan. It is operated by Toto, which also runs the national lottery program. The only legal forms of sports betting allowed through Toto are the four “Public Sports” – horse riding, bicycle racing, motorbiking, and boat racing – and football pools on the J-League. The J-League is Japan’s professional football (soccer) league which was formed in 1992 that contains a total of 58 different teams. Two of those teams are considered Under-23 teams.
There are no land-based casinos in Japan, at least not in the format that is typical in the West. Instead, there are gambling halls. There are currently well over 20,000 gambling halls that dot the Japanese landscape offering what they promote as “entertainment with prizes.” Although the population of Japan is roughly half that of the United States, gambling revenue from both countries is almost equal. Plus, Japan has a growing gaming machine manufacturing industry.
The Legal Situation
The Japanese government is very strict about all forms of gambling with a fine line that separates games of skill (which are permitted) from games that are based on luck (which are not permitted). Plus, the internet has made it difficult for regulatory bodies to control online gambling activities. For example, the government has attempted to keep Japanese gamblers from making use of foreign online bookmakers, but there are no laws in place to forbid it.
Add to this the welcoming approach that online sportsbooks and casino sites have towards Japanese players, and there is no wonder that the government there is upset about gambling money trickling away from Japan’s coffers. Looking at the situation through a logical lens, when you see the range of gambling options available from foreign sites compared to what is legally available in Japan, it is hard to argue that players should just support their government-run gambling portal.
The Move For More Legalization
If there is a positive to come from the gambling activity that is going to foreign casino sites, it is that the movement of Japanese gamblers participating on sites outside of Japan has forced the government there to take a hard look at their hard stance on the matter. This includes a review of the existing gambling infrastructure in Japan, both physical and online. There is also a hint circulating internationally that the Japanese lawmakers are considering big changes to the gambling laws there. The biggest change is the possible legalization of all forms of gambling. That would include a licensing system that could see American-style casinos popping up all over the place. The large debt crisis in Japan would be the primary driver in pushing the government to overhaul gambling laws. Discussions have been ongoing, since late 2013, but so far, nothing concrete has changed.
The Hot Spots In Japanese Gambling
The gambling halls throughout Japan are extremely popular with local and visiting gamblers. Although they do not contain games that would typically be associated with a casino-type venue, the game of choice is called Pachinko. This game is played on electronic booths that typically use films set in Japan as the theme of the game. Pachinko is similar to a video slot machine that is a combination of a pinball machine mechanism and an arcade video game. To play Pachinko, a large volume of ball bearings are dropped down the front of the vertical playing surface from above.
The balls bounce down the machine hitting obstacles and pins along the way. Players attempt to capture the loose ball bearing which can trigger more to drop from the top of the machine. The goal is to end up with a number of the ball bearings at the end of gameplay which can be used to exchange for cash prizes or selected gifts. Pachinko is considered a skill-based game, which gets it past the Japanese government’s gambling laws, although there is also a great deal of luck involved. Other major gambling attractions in Japan, aside from the legal betting of J-League football and the other four “Public Sports,” online gambling is becoming very popular. The ability to just download a mobile betting app is easy, fast, and exciting which has attracted many Japanese gamblers.
The future looks bright in the gambling industry in Japan should full legalization occur. The global casino brand Melco Crown Entertainment has already indicated an interest in constructing a $5 billion casino/resort based on the existing interest within the country for such a venue. The facility would likely be built to host international gambling tournaments in mind. As Japan is still suffering from one of the highest deficits, the introduction of American-style casinos and entertainment venues could help the country to finally get back on its feet. It all hinges on the lawmakers who would be making the ultimate gamble on the future of their country. One thing is for sure, should Japan change its gambling laws, the online market is likely to explode bringing in a revenue stream that could tip the odds in favor of legalization.