For Japan, Gambling Is More Than Just A Pastime

July 5 2022

Japan has a long history with gambling and a complex set of laws dictating any form of wagering. A desire for change is present, however.

Integrated Resorts may be coming to Japan, but opposition to casinos remains.

Integrated Resorts may be coming to Japan, but opposition to casinos remains.

According to a news report published by Focus Asia Pacific, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has recently affirmed his support for widening casino licenses across the country; in his view, Integrated Resorts (IRs), which provide casino gambling in a controlled environment, are crucial to increasing inbound home tourism. In raising the issue, Kishida has increased the profile of gambling in Japan once again, so it's worth considering exactly what the Japanese gambling scene has looked like for the past few years and how that might change.

Most popular forms

The most popular form of gambling in Japan today is, like most other places in the world, online gambling. As outlined by Retail Insider, Japanese gamblers have traditionally circumvented gambling laws within the country, which stipulate strict controls over any gambling facility, by basing their services overseas. As a result, online casinos provide all of the games favored by betting markets overseas, from poker and blackjack to popular games of chance like slots and roulette. As a result, the modern gambling scene in Japan isn't quite so predicated on Japanese-invented games, and, due to its legal loopholes, is actually quite similar to elsewhere in the world. In less murky legal territory, however, pachinko reigns.

Time-honored pachinko

Pachinko - a game of both skill and luck which involves bouncing small metal ball bearings around a metal track - has existed since at least 1920. Pachinko historically inhabited a gray legal space, according to The Japan Times, but police crackdowns have improved their legitimacy. Pachinko parlors saw existential threat during the COVID pandemic, but have seen a surge in interest - partly down to a The Atlantic-featured TV adaptation that, at least in part, concerns the game. Pachinko parlors are a fun historical feature and show a different, perhaps slightly less glamorous, side of the gambling scene; the IRs have promised to reform the industry.

The IR Game

The IR tendering process has been wrought with controversy. In August 2021, Yokohama municipality - considered one of the leading candidates to secure an IR contract - dropped out of the race due to the election of an anti-casino mayor, according to the Straits Times. This shows exactly how political the process can be, and why so many delays have been created in the process. The good news is that now, after delays dating back to 2018, movement is happening in the push forward for IRs. In the process, it'll make casinos more accessible, provide a family-friendly alternative to the seedier aspects of the gambling economy, and bring in significant outside investment from the big American gambling magnates.

The Japanese gambling industry is therefore going to see an overhaul. Looking to Singapore as an example of clean and fun gambling opportunities, Japan is clearly seeing the benefits that gambling, including online gambling, could bring for its population and wider economy. Gambling has always operated in online spaces; with IRs, it'll be brought towards greater legitimacy.

Related content