Under current Japanese law, it is illegal to gamble for cash. Land based casinos are banned entirely and the only form of legal betting allowed in Japan is on certain types of horse racing and specified motor sports. From time to time, special conditions are held under law to allow betting on some sporting events and national government run lotteries, but these are rare exceptions.

The issue of legalising gambling in Japan has been an ongoing debate, especially in recent times as the country looks ahead in preparation for the influx of tourism that will arise from the 2020 Olympic Games. This article will give you an overview of the history of casino gambling in Japan, the current stance on gambling and what the future has in store for Japanese casinos.

The history of gambling in Japan

Gambling in Japan is banned under Chapter 23 of Japan’s Criminal Code despite being a favoured pastime for many of the country’s wealthy citizens. The ban means that many of Japan’s elite take their money elsewhere to enjoy the casino facilities offered internationally at Macau, Singapore, Korea, the Philippines, Australia and beyond while everyday recreational gamblers are turning to online gambling, pouring dollars into offshore operations.

Gambling at pachinko parlours

To the typical Japanese resident or tourist, your option for a night out gambling is limited to the Japanese game called pachinko which can be found at privately owned pachinko parlours all over the country (with an estimated 12,500 parlours operating in 2011). Pachinko is a kind of slot machine/pinball game hybrid where the player must shoot a ball into a special hole in order to activate the jackpot.

The loophole here is that pachinko games aren’t played for cash, but instead for tokens which can then be exchanged at the parlours prize centre. Prizes can include anything from pens to bicycles to cigarette lighters, but also for pieces of gold or silver which can then be sold outside the establishment in exchange for cash.

Japan’s current casino climate

In 2015 it remains illegal for casinos to operate in Japan but this issue is a hot debate under a lot of media, public and government scrutiny. As Japan’s economy continues to weaken and the country prepares for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games to be held in Tokyo, bills have been placed that would legalise gambling and pave the way for the construction of land based casinos.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been openly supporting the move to legalise casinos, seeing it as a positive move to help Japan’s economy while also working as a major drawcard for tourists. The legalisation of casinos in Japan would not only bring in more tourist dollars, but would also keep the yen spent by Japanese gamblers at offshore casinos within national borders. Economists believe legalising casinos could be a multibillion dollar boost to Japans economy.

A bill to enable casino gambling in Japan is currently under review by the Japanese parliament, requiring to be passed by both houses if the legislation is to go ahead. Many international gaming corporations have come forward with offers to invest in the establishment of Japanese casinos and it has been speculated that if the laws are to be passed, Japan could become the world’s third biggest gambling destination after Macau and the United States.

The future of land based casinos in Japan

As we wait to see whether gambling will become legalised in Japan, many continue to debate whether it’s a great or terrible idea. Many conservative Japanese with traditional views think that the introduction of casinos will bring more crime and create social issues like problem gambling, while those backing the changes in legislation assure that casinos will be restricted to non-residential tourist zones within Tokyo or Osaka, attracting mostly rich foreigners, wealthy businessmen and tourists.

The international gaming companies under consideration for the partnerships have also promised to bring their expertise in restricting underage and problem gamblers while supporting responsible gambling practices at all times.

Whichever way you look at it, with an economy on the decline and the country about to experience a huge tourism boost, the legalisation of land based casinos in Japan could bring a much needed boost to the Japanese economy for years to come.

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