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The Land of Rising Gambling or Unique Gambling in Japan

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Gambling in Japan is regulated by Article 23 of the Criminal Code. Most of them are prohibited; organizing and participating in gambling industry in Japan may be punished with prison sentences (up to 5 years), forced labor or large fines (up to 500 thousand yen, about $4,600,000).

But some games are officially allowed; they are organized either by the authorities or by private companies under state control. Both the organizers and the budget get considerable and stable income from legal gambling in Japan. So, there is a clear positive tendency in the country: gambling business is gradually legalized.

What kind of gambling is allowed in Japan?

According to the law, in Japan you can bet on some kinds of races, participate in the lottery, and play a unique type of slot – pachinko.

  • Shogi and go are traditionally excluded from the category of gambling in Japan. This is because for the samurai any games were strictly forbidden, but shogi and go are more about training strategic thinking than gambling. These games are still popular in Japan, and there are also online versions. 

What unique types of gambling are allowed in Japan?

It is legal to bet on several types of races, they are called “koei kuyogi”, i.e., “public sports”. All types have a sweepstakes system, with prizes accounting for 70-80% of total sales. Bookmaker tickets can be purchased at numerous motor-racing tracks and at ticket booths.

“Public Sports” on which you can legally bet in Japan:

  • Keiba is a horse racing sweepstakes in Japan. More than 20,000 races are held each year in three types: races, hurdle races, and derbies. The horse races with the highest stakes in Japan are held in the spring, autumn, and winter; the Japan Cup attracts the most attention from punters.
  • Keirin is a bicycle race. This sport was created in Japan in 1948: before the final race, athletes must ride several laps of the cycle track at a certain speed. The competition is divided into rounds and the finish race, accompanied by colorful details. For example, all cyclists have their own color of uniform, the competition begins with a bow ceremony and a way to the start, during the finish, a bell or gong is rung. Keirin has been an Olympic sport since 2000. Several types of keirin bets are accepted in Japan: name two or three winners in exact / random order, name the winner of the last seven races, etc.
  • Kyōtei in Japan is a motorboat, seaplane race. It is a competition on artificial lakes with an oval shape and a length of 600 meters. Six boats compete, they must make three laps on the lake. The first kyōtei race in Japan was held in 1952 in the district of Nagasaki, now the country has 24 stadiums where boat racing competitions are held. A unique feature of this sport is the fact that women can compete on an equal basis with men. Only the minimum weight of the participant is important. The system of sports betting on boat racing in Japan is quite complicated. For example, a racer can be disqualified for a late start or violations – in which case the bet is not refundable.
  • Motorcycle racing (speedway). Motorcycle racing competitions in Japan are held on tarmac tracks, usually involving eight riders and six laps each. The first race was held in Funabashi in 1950. Before race day, racers must live in a hostel with more than 500 racers for some time and refrain from any contact with the outside world to prevent disqualification of the race because of alleged ties to the Yakuza.

Participation (buying and selling tickets) in takarakuji, a lottery in Japan that is organized constantly by the prefectures and authorities of major cities, is also permitted. There are three types of lotteries: lotteries with a unique number, lotteries with a selected number, and scratch off cards. Each lottery ticket costs from 100 to 500 yen ($1 to $5), with grand prizes ranging from 100 million yen (about $900,000) and higher. Lottery law states that the prize should consist of no more than 50% of ticket sales, with the remainder going to regional government agencies and charities.

Very popular in Japan and legal pachinko – slot machines / slots in Japan with a ball like a pinball. There is also a more computerized version of the game – pachisuro. To start the game, you have to buy (for about 4 yen / $0.04) a small metal ball, one ball is one try. Players usually have at least 1,000 yen ($9) worth of balls at once. The player must put the ball into a special slot, earning extra balls as prizes. However, they can be spent not only to continue the game, but also to exchange for valuable items.

Getting the money for the won balls directly is impossible, as it breaks the law. But there is a practice: the resulting valuable items can be sold in the nearest stores to the arcade. And the stores, coincidentally, not otherwise, belong to the owners of the pachinko halls.

There are about 20,000 pachinko halls all over Japan, and according to various sources, they are visited daily by about 50% of the local population and tourists.

Land-based poker clubs are legal in Japan. But there are no bets or cash prizes. To participate in the game, a visitor to the poker room must purchase a certain number of drinks, and it is possible to win material things and touristic trips, including a trip to Macau. For example, in 2017, Japan hosted its first internationally branded poker tournament, the WPT, where the prizes were not money, but packages to future WPT events.

The problem of legalization of gambling and betting in Japan

The first mention of gambling in Japan dates back to the 8th century. Traditionally, everything to do with excitement, gambling, betting and winnings is very popular among the Japanese.

As of the autumn of 2021, Japanese law allows only a few types of gambling, organizing and participating in other types is a criminal offense. Although the procedure for fines and restrictions is described in detail, in practice it applies only to the organizers of illegal casinos and betting shops.

Now in Japan there are illegal casino halls under control of the Yakuza (local mafia, criminal gangs). Currently, gambling is one of the main areas of their activities, bringing good profits. In illegal casinos people play for real money not only in “traditional” gambling games (cards, roulette), but also in Mahjong – a Chinese game. Also, despite a total ban, there are many online casino resources in Japan. For example, one of the most popular among the Japanese is the online game ” rock, paper, scissors”. Although all casinos and online betting are prohibited in Japan, there are no blockages. Foreign operators are also free to offer their services.

Considering the huge profits made by illegal establishments, since 2013 the Japanese authorities have been thinking about legalization.  Many pros and cons were announced, and various initiatives were developed.

As a result, since the 19th of July 2021, Japan began to operate the Act on the Promotion of Certain Complex Tourism Facilities, which legalizes the activities of casinos in the country. The plan is to start by licensing three complex resorts, leaving room for expansion after seven years or more, depending on the effectiveness of the first three. Potential candidates to open offline casinos in Japan have already applied, but expect the first establishments to open no earlier than 2024. According to a study by the Daiwa Institute of Research, only 3 casinos are capable of bringing in $10 billion in net profits per year.

According to experts, in the near future Japan has every chance to become the largest gambling market in Asia, many times overtaking even Macau in terms of indicators. The State apparatus of the country not only actively supports this business, but also undertakes a number of measures to make the gambling industry an integral part of the tourist infrastructure.

How to attract Japanese to a casino or bookmaker site? 

Japan is an island country in East Asia. Its population is about 130 million people, it’s a country with a very high level and life expectancy.  The country is multi-religious: most of them practice Shinto and Buddhism; there are also Christian and Muslim communities. However, the inhabitants of Japan are characterized by adherence to several religions at once, which opens up more opportunities.  Japanese is the main language, but English is widely spoken.

  1.  The Japanese people are a very hardworking nation; workaholism is a national “diagnosis,” from which about 10,000 people die each year in the country. Where there is a lot of work, there is a lot of stress and fatigue. And the best way to relax is to get new emotions and excitement, which you can find not only in the gambling halls and casinos, but also online. As proof of the excitement of the Japanese, we can bring this fact: in the Japanese gaming club slot machines are not longer than 2 years, after that they are sold for home use!
  2. The Japanese people are traditional, they love their country. That’s why unique local gambling games are so popular here: Panchkin, Keirin, Mahjong. Moreover, even if you know English, players choose sites and services in Japanese!
  3. At the state level, players are not protected from fraud on casino sites. Therefore, users trust only sites with a good reputation and reviews!
  4. Among Japanese people, Instagram and Facebook are very popular social networks. There is a local Japanese social network, AMEBA, whose main topic is personal blogging. There are many profiles of famous people, musicians, and models. In particular, this social network is popular because of a variety of games. The most famous is Pigou: the ability to create your own character, build your own house, for completing tasks – to get to different goods in the game. The game is networked, which allows users to not only communicate, but also to meet celebrities.
  5. On YouTube, attract interesting channels with video clips such as karaoke, as well as videos of accidents on Russian roads. The country has its own analogue of YouTube – NICONICO, here are popular channels with anime and vocals, covers, passing games on smartphones, live broadcasts of shows, series, sports games. The most popular messenger is Japanese Line.
  6.  Japanese players prefer sites where it is possible to deposit and withdraw money in cryptocurrency. According to experts, more than 67% of the country’s population actively uses bitcoin wallets for payments. But transfers through global money platforms, such as Neteller and PayPal, are minimally in demand. By the way, the gambling market in Japan has enormous opportunities for the spread of cryptocurrency. Why is it time to invest in cryptocurrency?

Now Japan is taking small but important steps toward the legalization of land-based casinos, and soon we can expect news for the online sector as well.  But the conditions for gambling are already great: a huge audience, well acquainted with gambling and betting on legal games. In addition, just past the Olympic Games in Tokyo only further ” warmed up” the Japanese people, now ready for new entertainment. The complete lack of control over the gambling sites is another huge plus for those who are ready to drive quality traffic from Japan!  

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