Japan is a country that is full of tradition, much of which is strictly followed. As far as gambling—especially that which takes place at casinos—is concerned, there really isn’t much to speak of in the country. By way of a very restrictive law, almost all forms of gambling (slot games, table games, poker) are currently banned and have been for quite some time. Though there are plans in process actively working to change this, you will find absolutely no casinos in the country and very few forms of gambling that anyone outside of Japan would be familiar with.
Japanese Gambling History
As was touched upon briefly above, there is not much history to speak of as it relates to gambling in Japan. As for when the first casino was established, that date does not exist. If you are looking to play slot games you will find yourself out of luck because those are not available either. Instead, what you will find in Japan is an assortment of traditional games of chance as well as some types of sports betting.
Betting on Public Sports
In Japan, what are referred to as public sports are able to be wagered upon so long as the wagers comply with local ordinances. The sports that are included under the “public sports” blanket term are horse racing, bicycle racing, powerboat racing, and motorcycle racing provided that the race is taking place on asphalt and not any other type of surface.
In the United States, there are lotteries that take place throughout whole states as well as some that take place only in individual states. In Japan, certain cities and municipalities allow for the existence of lotteries that are widely popular where available. According to Japanese law, however, the prize pool for any lottery cannot exceed 50% of the ticket sales. This is to ensure a good proportion of lottery proceeds go to support local infrastructure, public services, and provide support for education.
As far as legitimate gambling—the likes of which you might find in Las Vegas or Macau—is concerned, Pachinko is as close as you will get in Japan. Pachinko, simply put, is a game that closely resembles pinball. You are able to place many different wagers on a Pachinko game so long as those wagers are being placed at an approved parlor.
Pachinko is incredibly popular in Japan, which explains why there are so many parlors located all across the country. This type of gambling is available and determined to be legal mostly due to the fact that Pachinko has such a special place in the heart of Japanese culture. It is literally the only exception that exists to Japan’s otherwise very restrictive policy towards gambling.
Developments to the Japanese Casino Industry
To say the phrase “Japanese Casino Industry” is to tell a lie because, right now, there is none to speak of. With that being said, however, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in 2016, championed a bill that, if approved, would allow for lawmakers to begin seriously discussing legalizing and regulating brick and mortar casinos in cities like Tokyo and Okinawa.
From day 1, Abe introduced this piece of legislation from the perspective that it would help the Japanese economy, which had been struggling for quite some time at the time the bill was proposed. Despite the obvious financial advantages that a legalized network of brick and mortar casinos might bring, there were plenty of opponents who wanted nothing to do with casinos because of the social ills that are often thought to accompany them.
The bill was fought over for a while, but after some time it was put up to a vote in Japan’s Lower House of Parliament and eventually passed. This surprise was compounded when a special panel from Parliament’s Upper House also voted to approve the bill and send it to a final vote to be taken by the entirety of the Upper House. Despite Abe’s political party dominating the Upper House, there were still plenty of doubts with regard to the likelihood that a casino bill would pass. Luckily, those doubts were thrown out the window as the bill made it through the Parliamentary gauntlet once and for all.
Despite what many people think, the passing of the 2016 casino bill does not mean that casino giants like MGM and Wynn are going to begin breaking ground on massive casino resorts anytime soon. What the bill really did was allow for Abe and his colleagues to use 1 years’ time in order to develop the entire casino framework. In addition to laying out how he plans on licensing and regulating the casinos that would inevitably be built, he is also tasked with coming up with a clear plan regarding how the country plans to handle problem gambling and prevent known problem gamblers from accessing the casinos.
Polls have shown that Japanese citizens generally oppose the idea of casino gambling, but the bill was not ever necessarily intended to be for the benefit of the average Japanese citizen. Instead, Abe introduced the bill hoping that the existence of casinos would greatly boost the revenue created by the tourism industry. The hope is that Japan will be able to open casinos in time for Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Summer Olympics, but that much remains to be seen as there is a lot in the way of legal work that needs to be handled first and foremost.