Gambling in Japan
Public sports, lottery, and toto (football pools) are held under special laws in order to increase the income of national and local governments, as well as to offer a form of entertainment for many people.
Kōei kyōgi (公営競技, public sports) are public races that people in Japan can gamble on legally. There are four different types of kōei kyōgi: horse racing, bicycle racing, powerboat racing, and asphalt speedway motorcycle racing. They are allowed by special laws and are regulated by local governments or governmental corporations.
The prize pool for the gamblers of these races are about 75-80% of total sales. Betting tickets are available at countless circuits and ticket booths within many cities, namely Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama, and Nagoya.
There are three main types of lotteries: unique number lotteries, selected number lotteries, and scratch cards. Each lottery ticket is sold at 100 to 500 yen, and the top cash prizes are usually 100 million yen or more.
The takarakuji law stipulates that the entire prize pool for any given lottery is to be less than 50% of total sales, with the rest going to local government organizations and charities. Takarakuji tickets are available at takarakuji booth and stores in many cities. Tickets for selected number lotteries can be also bought at some ATMs.
Pachinko is a pinball-like slot machine game. It is officially not considered gambling because Japanese laws regard pachinko as an exception to the criminal code on gambling for historical, monetary, and cultural reasons. Pachinko parlours can be found all over Japan, and they are operated by private companies. As of 2011, there are about 12,480 pachinko parlors in Japan.
In pachinko, when a player's ball makes it into a special hole to activate the slot machine and a jackpot is made, they are rewarded with more balls. Players can then exchange the balls for prizes of different value at a booth in the parlour. Money cannot be awarded at pachinko parlors as this would be in violation of the criminal code. However, players almost always exchange pachinko balls for special tokens, usually slips of gold encased in plastic, and then "sell" them at a neighboring shop for cash. Usually such shops are also owned by the parlor operators, but as long as the winners do not receive cash in the parlour, the law is not broken.
Yakuza are known to operate illegal casinos in Japan. In addition to traditional casino games, Mahjong can be played for money and many mahjong parlors have ties with the Yakuza to assist collecting debt from players who default.
Another illegal gambling opportunity is offered by mobile gambling sites. At these sites, Japanese gamblers can play rock-paper-scissors and win cash prizes. In 2010, the owner of one of these sites was arrested and confessed to earning over $1 million. The players purchased betting tickets for ¥315. They could win ¥1,000 if they won three times in a row while ¥10,000 was the prize for those who won five times in a row.
There were movements within the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government to open casinos to boost tourism in Japan. Operating casinos remains illegal in Japan, and recent sports betting on baseball by sumo wrestlers has caused a scandal.
On April 4, 2011, Shintaro Ishihara, the previous Tokyo Governor, spoke against the pachinko parlours, arguing that the popular game together with vending machines eat up about 1000 kWh.[clarification needed] He said that following the consequences the earthquake of March 11, 2011, the government asked people to reduce energy consumption, but asking wasn't enough and the government order was not enacted.In 2016, the Parliament voted to approve the said law that will eventually alter the gambling industry in Japan.
At the same time, Ishihara has been pushing the legalization of casinos for quite a while. In 2000, he proposed building casinos in Odaiba, but despite the high public interest, the idea wasn't totally approved. One of the arguments was that the Japanese being not used to gambling would be too prone to addiction. Another possibility for the development of the casino industry in Japan is the creation of floating casinos. The idea of boat gambling is also actively supported by Ishihara.
Casino legislation in Japan has picked up fresh momentum with lawmakers preparing to submit the Integrated Resort (IR) Enabling Act to the Diet.
In July 2018, Japanese lawmakers approved a bill that officially allows casinos in the country. Three casinos in the form of integrated resorts will be established in different locations. The IRs will come with restrictions and Japanese locals will only be able to visit the casinos three times per week, or ten times a month. Japanese visitors will also be charged a 6,000 yen entrance fee to help discourage addiction.
- (in English) Criminal Code of Japan PDF
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- Gov. sparks pachinko bashing
- Playing Pachinko: How Illegal Gambling Is Legal in Japan
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- LDP discussion about casinos in 2006
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- Tokyo Governor Takes Aim at Vending Machines, Pachinko
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