You must have seen the boisterous pachinkos while you were in Japan and many of you might have been wondering if gambling is legal in Japan. You will not find traditional casinos in the country, but other forms of gambling are not illegal and are very popular among Japanese citizens. Besides pachinko you can find establishments for 宝くじ, or lotto draws and 競馬, or horse racing in English almost everywhere in Japan. In this article I will share with you the most important expressions and vocabulary related to gambling in Japanese. Let’s get started!
Legal status of gambling in Japan
Whether or not it would be expedient to have traditional casinos in Japan is a long lasting debate and even Japanese experts don’t seem to find an answer to this problem. With the advancement of web related technologies there is an increasing number of online casinos available for gamblers all around the world.
In 2017 there were more than 9000 pachinko establishments around Japan and in the same year there were 9 million players enjoying pachinko. The number of pachinko players has been decreasing in recent years, mostly because people are more aware of the issues related to gambling addiction. This has also resulted in a significant decrease in the number of pachinko shops. According to official data from Wikipedia there were 15.947 pachinkos in 1990 and now there are less than 9000 of these establishments.
Only considering these two facts, we could conclude that gambling in Japan is prevalent and physical casinos in Japan would only represent a new form of gambling and it would not bring any harm to the country. At least that’s what casino advocates say in Japan. Physical casinos could potentially help the Japanese economy in regaining its lost momentum, because even without them the country already relies on revenues brought in by foreigners. This is what happened already in South-Korea, where the country’s economy showed symptoms similar to that of Japan. There was a rapid growth after WWII and then South-Korea turned into economic stagnation. In order to revitalize the economy they started promoting their country as a touristic destination for foreigners and later they opened their casinos exclusively for foreign visitors. South-Koreans are not even allowed to enter these establishments. Many believe that Japan should follow the same path.
According to Japanese law, you are not allowed to exchange the balls you win in these shops for money, but usually you can get gifts or coupons and these are already convertible assets.
Gambling activities are illegal in Japan and gambling is defined as using money to play certain games in order to win money so that the player can reinvest the money in new gambling activities. As long as the game provider don’t offer money to the players its activities considered legal in Japan. This is the reason for the large number of pachinko stores in the country. Traditional casinos directly offer rewards in cash, therefore they have been outlawed by Japanese legislators.
In order to understand this, let’s see a sentence taken from the Japanese Wikipedia page of Baccarat:
This means that playing baccarat in Japan itself is not an illegal activity, however gambling is illegal in Japan, therefore if you gamble (bet) when you are playing baccarat then you are engaged in illegal activities according to Japanese law.
And let’s see one more very important sentence from the same site in Japanese first:
Gambling and lotto are regulated in the 185th and the 187th paragraph of the Japanese criminal law and offenders are penalized. However, government-controlled competitive sports such as horse racing, boat racing, cycle racing, car racing, government-issued lotteries and sport betting are governed by different regulations and are acknowledged as gambling.
Everything must be clear, right? As long as you gamble in government-operated establishments you are not breaking the rules and this is also why traditional casinos are not allowed to operate legally in Japan.
It did not take too long for ingenious Koreans to find the market potential in this situation. If you get on a plane from Osaka en route to Busan, you will get to the South-Korean city in approximately one hour and if you are a gambler, welcome to paradise! These casinos are established exclusively for foreigners and most of the customers you find here are mainly from Japan and maybe a few of them from mainland China, which is another country that bans gambling activities. Practically all the surrounding countries outstretch their arms and welcome Japanese gamblers in their casinos. These players are glad to go to Guam, Hawaii or Saipan and spend their money no matter what.
In order to make pachinkos and this form of gambling more attractive to gamblers there is usually a third party involved and coupons are exchanged for money with their help. This raises many questions, because when this happens then quasi-legal activities become illegal and collusion with Japanese law enforcement is a prerequisite.
On the other hand, gambling and the concomitant addiction cause very severe problems in Japan. Pachinko seems to be a socially accepted phenomena and nobody seems to criticise gamblers spending time in pachinko shops once or twice a year.
If you are a frequent gambler and you spend a lot of time in pachinko stores, the Japanese society will definitely look down upon you. Some people have very bad experiences with these kinds of activities, hence the bad reputation.
In extreme cases Japanese pachinko addicts lose their own money on pachinko, then borrow some from their friends and when they have nothing left they turn to their relatives to get more money they can use in these dangerous dens. Some of the homelesses you see in Japan were successful businessmen who became pachinko addicts and after they had lost everything they had no other option but to live on the street. The rehabilitation process for them is not straightforward as Japan has no specialized institution for their treatment. There are some private organizations for gamblers who want to return to their normal life, but these organizations don’t even accept patients with anosognosia.
If you want to improve your gambling related Japanese knowledge you can use the following table and learn a few important expressions:
Gambling related Japanese:
You can see that many of the Japanese words are essentially English words written with katakanas. This list is perfect for those who want to learn something interesting and useful in Japanese.