Japan’s movement toward legalizing casinos has been a long one. But legalized casinos are finally bearing down the final furlong.
The Casino Administration Committee was founded in January 2021. With that, Japan took its first step towards allowing fully legalized live poker on the islands. Now the print of that step is beginning to set in the concrete.
The cities granted IR licenses so far are Osaka, Nagasaki, and Yokohama. All three are reviewing applications for the licenses.
The Osaka dealer school held a gambling event recently. And all three cities are reviewing their first applications for Integrated Resort (hotel complexes that contain a casino) licenses.
Japan has hosted one-off poker events, like the WPT Japan. However, the nation hasn’t had a permanent and legal institution for real-money poker.
The process has not been without controversy, with the Yokohama mayor facing accusations of corruption and Nagasaki hosting anti-IR protests. There has also been enormous competition among developers to get their hadns on the licenses and to be the first to open in the new market.
The state of the state
Japan’s gambling laws are, broadly speaking, a total prohibition. Chapter XIII of the Criminal Code prescribes up to three years of imprisonment for “habitual gamblers.”
For anyone who “runs a place of gambling or organizes a group of habitual gamblers,” that number goes up to five years.
There are exceptions to this law, mostly on cultural or fundraising grounds. Local authorities can run sports pools and lotteries. There are also exceptions for specific Japanese versions of bicycle, motorcycle, boat, and horse-racing.
Adding a few casinos to the list of exceptions has been a long, hard slog.
There are also plenty of illegal gambling shops where players can compete at mahjong or Go for cash. There are home games up and down the nation. Plus, some off-shore websites are willing to run the risk of letting Japanese players use their platforms.
Then there are the pachinko parlors. The law does not allow pachinko parlors to pay out cash prizes itself. So, as a loophole, they often own a neighboring business. The neighbor will deal exclusively in the parlor’s chips. This loophole allows pachinko to function as de facto casinos.
On the whole, options are very limited for poker players.
The enormous popularity of pachinko is in a roundabout way, part of how Japan came to consider gambling reform. One estimate puts 50% of Japanese leisure time in pachinko parlors.
In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, Japanese authorities viewed pachinko as an enormous burden on the electrical grid. And therefore as a threat to energy security should they suffer a similar disaster again.
The result was a push for gambling law reform that re-opened the discussion on casinos. It took ten years to make the changes. The time has finally come for Japan to generate some real competition around the Pacific Rim. The U.S. and Macau have been the world’s gambling hubs for too long.
The casino licenses will limit Japanese players to three visits a week and ten visits per month. There will also be a cover charge of JPY6,000 (~$55) to discourage addiction. Tourists will not be subject to these restrictions.
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