5.3 million. This is, according to a study conducted by the Kurihama Medical Center in 2014, the number of Japanese who are addicted to gambling. Japan is considered by many to be the pearl of the east, due to its advanced technology, its absolutely magnificent architecture or its unique culture. But what many people don't know is that gambling is also very much a part of Japanese culture.
And yet, Japan's relationship with gambling is somewhat unique. Indeed, since 1907, gambling has been officially forbidden. And beware of those who venture into gambling, the bill can be very high: 500,000 yen in fines, or nearly 4,000 euros, and even three years in prison for those who dare to re-offend!
However, and this may seem ironic in a way, some gambling is still tolerated in Japan. Games that are highly regulated and that, for some, are extremely popular with the Japanese population.
A long history
Yet, you have to go back a long way to see the first signs of gambling in Japan! The first traces of gambling in Japanese history date back to around 685 AD, when Emperor Temmu was known as an inveterate ban-sugoruko player, which can be considered as the ancestor of backgammon. Then, afterwards, the activity became very popular among the Japanese, especially in the Heian period. This led to the emergence of the so-called Bakuto (professional players). The arrival of these professional players forced the implementation of nine edicts prohibiting the game between 1225 and 1284. Strict laws were also put in place until the middle of the 19th century.
It is at this moment that the Land of the Rising Sun takes a 180 degree turn and decides to open up to foreign cultures. And gambling is one of them! The possibility for the Japanese to play games like poker made gambling explode in the country.
Faced with this upsurge in gambling, the Japanese government decided to ban these games purely and simply in 1907, with the main aim of fighting against addiction. This will make poker almost disappear from the country, which will never really have had the desired impact on the Japanese people. Other games will then make their appearance and will be absolutely crazy popular.
"Legal" games in Japan
Despite this ban, which has been in place for more than a century, some gambling is tolerated and is even ultra-popular with the Japanese.
How not to talk about pachinko? If there is one game that embodies gambling in Japan, it is pachinko. But where does this very popular game come from?
It is said that its original version was imported from Chicago, USA by a retailer in Osaka in the 1920s. Others say that the game has European origins, as the machine looks very similar to those introduced in Europe in the 1900s. It was originally called "Korinto Gemu" and was a game for... children! For some, the machines were very often placed in candy stores or in open air parks. It was so successful that some were installed near small slot machines all over the country.
But what makes pachinko so popular? Its simplicity. The concept is to buy small metal balls before sitting in front of a machine. There, the player just has to insert the balls into the machine. And that's all. The only control the player has is the speed at which the balls come out. Then, the marbles fall on a vertical surface where nails are driven. If the balls end up in certain holes, it triggers three reels, similar to those of a classic slot machine. If the player gets three identical symbols, he wins a greater or lesser number of balls. The player can then either replay the balls or exchange them for gifts.
And therein lies the strength of pachinko, and what allows the game to circumvent the law. Indeed, the machine does not deliver money directly, but marbles. And even at the counter, it is impossible to exchange your marbles for money. You can only get gifts that you can sell at stalls often located near the game rooms.
Today, there are more than two million machines in the archipelago, and one Japanese out of four would play it occasionally. And above all, it contributes greatly to the economy of the country! Indeed, in 2015, pachinko represented about 23,000 billion yens, that is to say nearly 175 million euros, placing it in the third rank of the leisure economy in the country, behind the restaurant industry and tourism.
The pusher game
This game is known all over the world but enjoys a strong popularity in the Land of the Rising Sun. Like pachinko, the concept is very simple.
The player must first obtain chips. Then, his goal is to succeed in making coins fall into an accessible tray located on the front of the machine. To achieve this, the principle is to drop coins from a vertical or slightly inclined plane located behind another horizontal plane where coins have accumulated during previous games. The new parts accumulated on the back are pushed forward by a mechanical system of reciprocation.
Like pachinko, the pusher game circumvents the prohibition law by only allowing players to win chips or items that can then be exchanged for money.
The Keiba game
Keiba game is one of the very few gambling games allowed in Japan. It consists of sports betting on virtual horse races.
To play, again, it's extremely simple. The player inserts the amount of money he wants to bet, chooses his horse and attends the race. If his horse wins the race, he wins a higher or lower amount depending on the odds of the horse selected.
If Keiba game is legal, it is extremely difficult to know where the gambling rooms are located. Very often, it works by word of mouth.
Making money on a tile game? Yes, yes, it is possible and even quite popular in Japan! Indeed, there are more than 10 000 rooms spread all over the archipelago, even if many of them have been closed down by the government because of numerous abuses.
Once again, mahjong circumvents the law. As there is no way to earn money directly, the entrance fees are charged in the form of expensive customer services, such as buffet packages.
It is probably the favorite money game of the Japanese government. Indeed, the lottery is present in the history of the country since the 17th century!
However, it was banned for a long time in the mid-18th century. But the damage caused by the Second World War forced the country to authorize lotteries in an exceptional way, in order to replenish the state coffers.
Today, lotteries are commonplace. They are organized several times a month and are very popular with the population, which can sometimes win several billion yen.
The lottery is also very beneficial for the country's finances! Indeed, a large part of the money collected goes into the coffers of the cities and prefectures where the gaming offices are located.
Land-based casinos coming soon?
The popularity of gambling continues to grow. Faced with this, the Japanese government decided to legalize the presence of land-based casinos on Japanese territory in 2016. A long-term work led by the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
If Abe has indeed listened to the demands of the Japanese people, this authorization also aims to mop up the country's debt, which amounts to about 230% of its GDP. This law authorizes the arrival of three casinos throughout the country, and 10 billion dollars of revenue are expected.
And it is the American group MGM Resorts that will have the honor of opening the first land-based casino in the history of Japan. The inauguration should probably take place in 2025 in Osaka, which will host the World Expo the same year. So it's sure to be a grand opening!
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