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Gambling in Japan

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Japanese Casinos and Betting History

By Reno Rollins

The current gambling laws in Japan were passed in 1907 and derived from an 1882 statute. Legal gambling in Japan is currently limited to horse, bicycle, motorboat and motorbike racing. Activities such as mahjong, pachinko and the lottery are defined as “amusements” and considered legal.

As of this writing, casinos are not legal in Japan. While no online casinos are based in Japan, residents are allowed to gamble via the Internet, and Japan is considered one of the largest online markets in the world.

The reason why certain forms of gambling are illegal in Japan can be traced back to the Edo Period. During this time, many people either lost their homes or were forced to sell their daughters into prostitution in order to pay off gambling debts.

In recent years, however, there has been increased speculation that Japan may be close to legalizing casino gambling in an effort to boost the nation’s economy. New legislation is expected to be passed in 2008, and gambling licenses would most likely be issued in 2009. The current talk is that three Vegas-style casinos would be improved, and their construction would be completed around 2012.

Gambling Popularity in Japanese

Gambling is a popular pastime in Japan. In fact, studies have shown that Japanese residents lose twice as much to gambling each year as U.S. citizens.

In a 2006 poll, thousands of Japanese were polled as to which types of gambling they had engaged in.

– National Lottery 75.1%
– Pachinko Machines 39.7%
– Horse Racing 15.7%
– Bicycle Racing 3.1%
– Boat Racing 2.4%
– Football Pools 0.6%
– Car Racing 0.6%
– Don’t know 0.2%

Casinos in Japan

While casinos are illegal in Japan, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. A trip to any major city can find men with sandwich boards advertising roulette wheels and other casino games. Most of these illegal casinos, or “game kingdoms,” are run by the yakuza.

In Japan, gambling and the yakuza have become synonymous over the years. In fact, the word “yakuza” comes from an 18th century card game played with flower cards.

These establishments, usually located in the same kind of buildings where you would find massage parlors or hostess clubs, allow patrons to play with casino chips. If you are lucky enough to win, you take the chips to a nearby store and exchange them for real money.

But don’t expect to be allowed inside if you are a foreigner. Doormen regulate who gets in, and a members-only policy is usually adhered to.

The police have traditionally busted about one of these illegal casino a week, and most are forced out of operation within a year or two. The largest concentration of these game kingdoms have usually been found in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro, Roppongi, Shinjuku and Shibuya areas.

Poker in Japan

While poker is supposed to be illegal, at least two major events have been held in the country. The Everest Poker Japan Cup was held in June of 2007, and the All-Japan Poker Championship was co-organized by a local newspaper and raised funds to help a charitable organization. The winner of the latter event won a seat at the 207 World Series of Poker.

Pachinko, Pachislo and Pachisuro in Japan

Originally created from a modified candy vending machines circa 1925, the pachinko machine has went on to become one of the most popular forms of amusement in the country. Similar to a pinball machine in design, the goal of the game is to get the metal balls to land in one of the winning pockets. Some machines pay out additional metal balls (which can later be redeemed for prizes in the parlor‘s gift shop), while others pay out coins. Modern machines have LCD screens and bonus screens.

Wildly popular in smaller towns and villages, there are over 15,000 pachinko parlors in Japan. The industry employees over 300,000 citizens, and there are over 3 million machines currently in operation.

Pachisuro machines are similar to slot machines, but they do not have a handle which activates the game. Instead, a small joystick is located on the front of the machine. Activating this lever will cause the reels to spin. The game also features skill stop reels, which are three small buttons on the front of the machine which allow each reel to be stopped by the player.

Introduced to the Japanese market in 1965, there are now over one-million pachisuro machines in the country.

And other gaming machines are also catching on. Customers at Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank have the option of playing a game of chance when completing their transaction at an automatic teller. Players can win up to 1,000 yen (around $8.50) with one spin. A roulette game has also been introduced, allowing customers to win 1,000 yen or an ATM fee waiver.

Pari-Mutuel Betting in Japan

Wagering on racing became legal in Japan in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is legal to place bets on horse, boat, bicycle and motorcycle racing. Horse racing is almost three times as popular in the cities than in the countryside.

Horse racing tracks in Japan include:

Chukyo Racecourse (Aichi)
Nagoya Racecourse (Aichi)
Funabashi Racecourse (Chiba)
Nakayama Racecourse (Chiba)
Kokura Racecourse (Fukuoka)
Fukushima Racecourse (Fukushima)
Kasamatsu Racecourse (Gifu)
Takasaki Racecourse (Gumma)
Fukuyama Racecourse (Hiroshima)
Asahikawa Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Hakodate Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Iwamizawa Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Kitami Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Mombetsu Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Obihiro Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Sapporo Racecourse (Hokkaido)
Hanshin Racecourse (Hyogo)
Himeji Racecourse (Hyogo)
Sonoda Racecourse (Hyogo)
Mizusawa Racecourse (Iwate)
Kawasaki Racecourse (Kanagawa)
Kanazawa Racecourse (Kanazawa)
Kochi Racecourse (Kochi)
Arao Racecourse (Kumamoto)
Kyoto Racecourse (Kyoto)
Morioka Racecourse (Morioka)
Niigata Racecourse (Niigata)
Saga Racecourse (Saga)
Urawa Racecourse (Saitama)
Ohi Racecourse (Tokyo)
Tokyo Racecourse (Tokyo)

Lottery in Japan

The first lottery in Japan dates back to around 1630, and they were eventually banned entirely in 1842. In 1945, before the end of World War II, the lottery was revived in an effort to raise money for the war. At the conclusion of the war, the government continued to sell lottery tickets. In 1946, local governments were also allowed to organize lotteries. In 1954, the national government discontinued the lottery, but it continued on the local level.

Some lotteries offer special features, such as higher odds on smaller prizes or a very high jackpot. Recent additions include an instant lottery and a double-chance lottery.

The All-Japan lottery is sold throughout the country, and drawings are held 12 times a year. Bloc lotteries are held each week in their respective “bloc” (Tokyo Metropolitan District, Kinki region, West Japan region and Kanto-Chuba-Tohoku region). Rainbow lotteries are held nine times per year, with their earnings going towards charity.

Sports Betting in Japan

Sports betting was launched in Japan in 2000 and went nationwide in March of 2001. It has started slow, and some blame such restrictions as an age requirement of 19, no commercials on radio or television, and no sales in convenience stores on the day of the game.

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