The World Poker Tour’s 2021 incarnation in Japan came to a close yesterday. Kimijima Shoki won the event, taking home the top prize of a $30,270 player contract.
The WPT Japan attracted 726 players in 2020. This was, at the time, a record-breaking field for the Asia-Pacific area. This year — after countless online and offline satellites and four Day 1 flights in two cities, Osaka and Tokyo — the field was set at an enormous 1,291 entries. Only 31 of these players were ultimately paid.
The WPT managed to sneak the Japan stop in just under the wire before the 2021 WSOP takes over the poker world’s collective bandwidth for two straight months.
The WPT Japan is a partnership between the Japan Poker Federation and Sammy Inc. Sammy is the company that provides both the software for the online satellites and the venue for the Tokyo flights and Days 2 and 3. The Osaka venue was hosted by Poker Live Osaka.
The WPT Japan 2021’s Twitter account congratulated Kimijima on his victory. In rough translation from the Japanese, the tweet read: “Winner Kimijima Shoki. You get an offer of a $30,270 player contract! […] Thank you for playing.”
The law and the loopholes
The WPT Japan is a bit of an outlier on the tour’s itinerary. Japan’s strict anti-gambling laws mean that the event has to function very differently from other WPT tournaments.
Players can only enter by winning live or online satellites or by getting a recommendation from the Japanese Poker Federation. This allows entries to the tournament to be considered “free” and so sidestep the issue of buy-ins.
Similarly, the prizes are not cash prizes. Instead, the winners earn an offer of a player contract. The price of the contract is the de facto prize. The idea is borrowed from pachinko parlors, which for decades have offered knickknacks as prizes. Meanwhile, a nearby pawnshop will buy back the knickknacks for cash.
Other poker series, like the Japan Open Poker Tour use similar methods. Last year’s JOPT also broke records.
You can see a trailer for the final day of the WPT Japan in the tweet below.
Legal poker coming soon
The WPT Japan, and other live poker series, may not have to function in this unusual way much longer.
The Japanese government has been working to bring legal live gambling to the nation since January 2021. That was when a committee was set up to award up to four casino licenses to as many prefectures. Competition is still underway for three of those licenses, but Wakayama Prefecture has nailed its license down.
Wakayama has inked a deal with Clairvest, a Canadian investment firm that will be breaking ground on an integrated resort in Marina City soon. With licensed casinos on the way, it shouldn’t be long before the WPT can set up a Japanese stop that fits more cleanly into their main tour.
As the WPT put it on Twitter: “Poker is growing in Japan.”
Featured image source: Twitter