When we imagine a casino, we always think of the “one-armed bandit” and how coins keep piling in the bin. Unfortunately, the Land of the Rising Sun made them illegal. Not only are slots illegal in Japan, but there are currently no casinos in the country at all. Gambling, in general, is against the law, and there are only a few exceptions like horse racing, lotteries, and several motorsports.
The most recent law from last year finally allowed casinos in the country. There will be three casinos in the form of resorts where people could play games. Unlike other countries, the resorts will come with additional limitations. The residents will only be able to visit three times each week or up to ten times per month. Furthermore, there will be an additional fee where people will have to pay six-thousand yens (around $60) to enter a casino with the idea of discouraging gambling.
The Rise of Pachinko in Japan
People all over the world love gambling, and Japan is no different. This is the main reason why they managed to find a loophole and create their own version of slot games. While slots are illegal in Japan, there is this other version that took the place of the most popular casino game.
Pachinko was initially designed as a game for kids, and it was created in the early twenties. The design is similar to arcade games, but today, it is quite often used as a gambling device.
It is a mechanical game that bears a slight resemblance to the pinball machine. However, unlike standard pinball, the game is vertical, and there are no flippers that player can use to get points. Both pinball and pachinko will use small metal balls, but pachinko ball is much smaller with a diameter of eleven millimeters (less than half an inch). Furthermore, the balls in pachinko are both the prize and the active object of the game.
The Gameplay of Pachinko — How to Play
The player will rent the ball(s) from the vendor, which is usually a pachinko parlor, and load them into the machine. Similar to pinball, the player will launch the ball into the playing field using a handle with a spring. When the ball is launched, it will travel along the rim until it loses momentum and falls into the field.
The first thing you’ll probably notice at the pachinko machine is that the playing field is filled with brass pins. The pins have a goal to redirect the ball or balls across the field. Under the influence of gravity, the ball will travel downwards bumping over the pins that will dictate the trajectory of the ball. There are also a few pockets or cups which can capture the ball, and that’s what the goal is. These cups or catchers have a small entrance which is barely the width of one ball. If the player manages to put the ball in the catcher, they will receive the payout which is more balls placed on the tray in front of the machine.
Finally, if the balls fail to reach the catcher, they will end up in the hole at the bottom. The main goal of the game is to get as many balls as possible.
There are several variations of the game, and there are even ones where the catcher will have small flippers that can either help the ball fall inside or close the entrance to the catcher. The flippers of the so-called tulip catcher will move either periodically or randomly. Some expert pachinko players will try to release the ball timing the launch when the flippers are open.
Even though the game is designed as a simple fun for kids, it quickly gained popularity and became the most popular form of gambling in Japan. There are so many parlors where you can play pachinko all across the country.
The interesting thing is that cash games are illegal in Japan. Since the main reward in pachinko games are more balls, the game remained legal. The balls cannot be exchanged for money, and the players won’t be able to take them away from the parlor. However, the players can exchange the balls for tokens at the end of the game. Finally, they can sell these so-called special prizes to a vendor that is located outside of the parlor. In the end, vendors will just “sell tokens” to parlor again for the same price plus commission, thus, creating a profit. Thanks to this interesting loophole, pachinko remains legal since it’s not played for real money, and the reward for games is also not cash but special tokens.
Today, there are even pachinko machines that are using electronics with displays and different additions that make them similar to video slot machines. Modern pachinko machines are very customizable, and they have different themes while keeping the same idea.
Skill-Based Slot Machines
Another form of gambling, or slots, more precisely, is the Japanese version of slot machines. These machines are almost a mix between pachinko and slot which earned them a name pachislot or pachislo.
While pachislo machines look rather similar to slots that we all know, there are several important differences. First and foremost — pachislots are beatable. Yes, you heard that right. According to their regulations, pachislos must have three reels with a button for each individual reel. As you can imagine, this will make all the difference. Besides, the rule states that reels can’t spin faster than eighty revolutions per minute and that the delay between the pressing of the button and the reel stopping is up to 0.19 seconds.
While modern slot machines are based on RNG, here, you will have a mechanical machine where each reel will have a stop button. Naturally, it is safe to assume that skilled players will be able to win the game a lot easier compared to the U.S. counterpart.
Is Winning Big a Possibility?
Unfortunately, there are additional limitations with payouts and bets in general according to Japanese gambling laws. The highest bet on these skill-based slots is three coins, while the payout is capped at fifteen. Furthermore, there is a fifty-coins cap on each of the machines. However, bonus wins are allowed where the player will have a chance to win up to seven hundred coins, and the payout will be divided into groups of fifteen coins.
While the machine is paying the bonus, the player will hear music and see winning scenes on the LCD screen for the entire duration of the bonus mode.
Stock, Renchan, and Tenjō
One of the main differences between regular slots and pachislos is in three unique features. When a pachislo accumulates enough coins for a bonus, that bonus won’t be released immediately. The slot will simply pause slip offs of the bonus symbols, and if the player fails to get the bonus during these so-called standby games, the amount will go to the stock.
As a result, many games make the probability of additional payouts rather high after these bonus games. Thanks to these multiple stocks or “renchan,” the payout could go as high as five or ten thousand coins. However, a decade ago, there was a bill that set the highest coin stock a machine can hold up to three thousand coins.
Finally, there is a maximum number of games between the release of each stock. The so-called tenjō will make it even more appealing and will tease players with a potentially incredible win. For example, if the tenjō is 2,000 and there were 1,999 spins since the last stock was released, that means that the next spin will release the bonus.
The situation with online casinos is similar to the opinions they have when it comes to land-based gambling. There are a few games that are excepted from the general ban, and you can always bet online on horse racing, motorsports, bicycle and motorboat racing. Besides, there are also three more games that people consider amusement and not gambling, and they are pachinkos, mahjong, and lottery.
Unfortunately, all other forms of gambling remain illegal, and you will have no chance of playing other games. At least not until the new casinos open.
However, there is still one option available. Players from Japan can “visit” an online casino that is located outside of Japan. This way, they will be out of the jurisdiction, and there will be no problems. While the games still remain illegal, there have been no cases of prosecution of players that tried slots on an off-shore website. Furthermore, there is no official ban on off-shore online gambling, and this creates a lot of opportunities for Japanese players.
If they find a website that accepts players from Japan, they will be able to try out a variety of online slots. Besides, they will have the same options as players that are visiting from the United States. They could also check the popular slots in the U.S. and try a few of the exciting video slots.
While casinos have been finally legalized in Japan, there will be a few years before these resorts are built. Many hope that these casinos will be ready before the beginning of the 2020 Olympic games. However, the reality is that it’s unlikely that there will be any casinos available before 2025. Until then, pachinkos, pachislots, and online games are the only versions of slot games available in the Land of the Rising Sun.