Gambling in Japan

Gambling in Japan was always more or less a taboo. Even though it was always present in Japanese culture, it still stands in the gray zone. So, why did Japan so strictly prohibit gambling since 1907, and why did the country reconsider this act?

What Exactly Happened?

Most people today know Japan as a modern country always ahead of the rest; especially so in the domain of technology and technological advancements. What’s more, almost every country on this planet strives to be somewhat like Japan—looking to improve their work ethics and modernize their technology. However, Japan made it look so easy, that other countries had absolutely no idea just how difficult it actually was to achieve this standard.

Considering this is how most people see Japan, it surely comes as a great surprise to find out that, just a year ago, this country legalized gambling. What inspired Japan to make this sudden decision, and why did the Japanese Government decide to forgo the act that ruled for over a century?

Japanese Views on Gambling

First of all, the Japanese have a markedly bad experience with gambling. The reason being,  the ruling dynasties of the time made sure that gambling is a sport reserved explicitly for criminals. The Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch brought gambling games to Japan, but the Japanese never used any of them for gambling purposes. Card games in Japan existed solely as a form of entertainment, and the same goes for different dice games. While some dynasties liked to play these games, others were firmly against it. No matter which way you put it, there was never a time in history when the Japanese could gamble freely — there were always regulations of some sort.

Japanese Views on Gambling

Naturally, whenever you ban something, there will always be people trying to rebel and confront your decision. Back when Japan still prohibited gambling, the notorious Yakuza clan was not having it. Deep in the underground, gambling was ever-present — and the government simply could not reach deep enough to stop it. Ultimately, criminals were the only people who gambled, and the common folk did not want to have anything to do with it. This is a result of a thoroughly thought up plan that one of the past dynasties came up with years ago. The best way to stop people from craving for such vices is to convince them that it is, in fact, a criminal act. As a result, any law-abiding citizen will avoid such activities just to stay on the right side of the law.

The Parliament Passed a New Law in 2016

In 2016, the government enacted a new law, called the ‘Integrated Resort Promotion Law.’ This means that gambling and casinos are officially legal in Japan. Although this is a significant change for the nation and its traditional views, it does not come without significant boundaries.

Casinos in Japan will be allowed, but only as a part of resorts — so you won’t have any luck finding legal casinos all over Tokyo. Moreover, these Japanese casino resorts will offer a lot more than mere gambling — they will also offer accommodation.  This will make it really easy for tourists to gamble, as it will only take them an elevator ride to reach a casino. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, announced that this law will help strengthen the economy of Japan. Additionally, it will cement the country’s status as one of the most popular tourist locations in the world.

This is a fairly reasonable move by the government. Even though Japan is the leader in the automotive and the IT sector, the economy is starting to stagnate. Gambling tourism will surely provide it with the necessary drive to move forward. Gold Sachs estimates that Japan will earn over $15 billion annually solely from gambling.

Does the Law Apply Only to Casino Gambling?

The good news is that the law won’t bring about any changes to what was already legal in Japan. Sports betting will remain intact as Japan never banned it in the first place. The Japanese are quite fond of horse racing, motorcycle racing, and bicycle racing. Additionally, despite slot machines not being legal, Pachinko is.

Pachinko is a machine that greatly resembles slots, and the only reason the government never banned it is because the prizes are not in cash. Winning Pachinko can get you candies, clothes, and various other prizes — but not money. Over time, the Japanese grew particularly fond of this game, and today you can find thousands of Pachinko parlors all over the country.

Same goes for the lottery. Just like in most other countries, buying a lottery ticket in Japan will definitely not send you to jail. The government has nothing against lotteries. Additionally, there are four official lotteries in Japan.

Why Just Now?

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The reason why Japan legalized gambling so late is due to the fact that this particular hobby comes with a number of different issues. For instance, the Yakuza still uses gambling for money laundering and organized crime, which is a huge issue Japan struggles with even today. Apart from this, the biggest concern both politicians and regular citizens share is combating addiction caused by gambling.

Pachinko addiction is already a hot topic for the nation. So, how can legalizing casinos and gambling possibly help? The good news is that the government has already come up with some countermeasures to try and battle the potential addiction problem. The new law will treat tourists and the local population quite differently.

The Japanese will get to visit casinos only 10 times per month, and even this won’t be free of charge. To enter Japan casino, an average Japanese will need to pay 6,000 Yen, which is equal to around $50. Also, in 2017, the JRA (Japan Racing Association) came up with a system that will allow families to block addicted gamblers from online horse betting.

The parliament invented all these rules to convince the nation that they’re able to restrain any potential gambling issues. Only time will tell whether any of these will make an impact once the first resorts start to come up from the ground.

Who Are the Newcomers?

Considering the huge estimates, it’s no wonder that many international casinos are taking great interest in the newly opened market. Everyone wants a piece of the cake, and they are ready to pay as much as necessary.

MGM Resorts International is only one of the many casinos ready to fight for the upper hand on the market. But they’re not alone — Las Vegas Sands will be coming to the battlefield as well.

The Americans are not alone in this though — Genting Group from Malaysia will probably offer their services to Japan as well. One thing is for sure — Japan won’t let any of the international operators have it easy. Sega Sammy Holdings and Konami Holdings will also have their fair share, and the Japanese are well acquainted with both of these brands.

A New Era for Japan

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The country started to build new resorts in 2019. Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama are only a few cities that will get their own luxurious resorts. Additionally, the government will establish the licensing committee relatively soon. Therefore,  it’s only a matter of time before these newly open casinos become completely legal. Some politicians hope that the resorts will come just in time for the Olympic Games in 2020, but according to many these are quite ambitious estimates. Realistically, the grand opening ceremonies probably won’t happen anytime before 2025. The local governments will have the authority to issue licenses, and they will be valid for 10 years.

Either way, congratulations are due. The Land of the Rising Sun is finally opening its doors to gambling, and this will bring a lot of excitement to both enthusiastic and occasional gamblers. It is no secret that gambling has long been a part of Japanese culture and is depicted in numerous media sources like anime about Kaiji the ultimate gambler, various movies, and books. Maybe you should start booking that ticket to Japan? Who knows what will stand in the offer once Lady Luck makes her grand entrance.