Will Casinos Replace Pachinko? The Future of Gambling in Japan

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Will Casinos Replace Pachinko? The Future of Gambling in Japan

Recent legal moves in Japan mean that this Asian country will soon allow casinos to open their doors there for the first time. The historic move to make gambling legal in Japan is already underway, with legislation passed at the end of 2016 to this effect. It seems that the case of the casino vs Japan is going to end in a truce.

This means that many people are now wondering what the future holds in store. Is the country ready for land-based casino and online gambling? Will it be a case of casino versus Japan’s traditional gambling game of pachinko in the battle to attract customers?

The Current Situation

At the moment, gambling is officially banned in Japan. However, the situation isn’t as simple as that statement makes it appear. There are currently a number of exceptions to the law.

For a start, people can bet on certain public sports. These are boat racing, motorcycle racing, horse racing and bicycle racing. In addition, the Japanese can also currently gamble by buying lottery tickets. Online gambling on sports games is also possible and legal.

Perhaps the most fascinating type of gambling in Japan, though, comes in the form of the pachinko game. This massively popular game has been around since the 1920s and it is believed that there are now about 12,000 parlours in Japan where it can be played.

Pachinko is best described as being like a cross between a slot machine and a pinball machine, as small steel balls rebound noisily inside brightly lit machines. Historically, it has been exempt from gambling restrictions as it isn’t played for money. Instead, players can win small metal balls that are exchanged for prizes or tokens.

Interestingly, pachinko generates far more revenue than all the casino hotspots such as Las Vegas and Macau added together, according to the BBC. Over $200 billion was gambled in pachinko parlours in 2015, although the number of players has been somewhat declining in recent years.

In the same way that pachinko has declined slightly in popularity, betting on public sports has also lost ground lately. This is partly attributed to a failure to attract younger players, as the younger generation seems to find other types of entertainment more appealing.

What Does the Future Hold?

In December of 2016, legislation was passed that starts the process of legalising Japanese casino gambling. This comes after more than a decade of debating between those politicians who support the legislation for gambling in a casino versus Japan politicians against the idea.

The move to fully legalise gambling was supported by the ruling party led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as well as by other parties. They believe that this move will be beneficial to the country’s economy and will boost tourism figures.

It will be at least 2022 before the first Japanese casino is ready to open, though. Estimates suggest that as few as three casinos could earn as much as $10 million in revenue in the country. Some of the biggest names in the casino industry are reportedly interested in opening for business here. One example is MGM Resorts International. Their chief executive, James Murren, spoke last year on the possibility of investing up to $10 billion in a new Japan casino.

Yet, there are still some obstacles that need to be overcome before this can happen. For instance, some people believe that casinos in Japan should only be open to foreign visitors.

There are also concerns about whether legalising gambling could lead to social problems such as gambling addiction. A government survey recently carried out in the country suggested that over 3 million Japanese gamblers struggle to keep their wagering under control.The research by the country’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare revealed that 3.6% of the people who took part in the survey had suffered a gambling addiction at some point in their lives.

There is clearly still a lot of work to be done before the first Japan casino is ready to deal its first cards and set the roulette wheels in motion. Tax levels need to be set, permits need to be awarded by a gambling commission and a system needs to be put in place to stop gambling addiction becoming a problem.

However, the recent legal moves show that it is probably just a matter of time before casino gambling becomes a reality in Japan. When this happens, it will be interesting to see the effect that it has.

Will roulette, blackjack and slot machines lure gamblers away from pachinko, the lottery and public sports? Will Tokyo or some other part of the country become a major international casino destination like Las Vegas and Macau?

Whatever happens, it seems certain that there are interesting times ahead for Japanese gamblers.    


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