Why are there no casinos in Japan? (& Why That’s About to Change)

Casino x Gambling
Image by stokpic from Pixabay

Most types of gambling are illegal in Japan, but exceptions do exist. Betting on some sports like horse racing and certain motorsports is allowed, and the football pools known as “toto” and the lottery are allowed via special laws. The strict gambling regulations and laws of Japan mean no casinos have been allowed to operate on Japanese soil. However, it looks like that is about to change.

Pachinko Parlors

While there are no casinos in the Land of the Rising Sun, it may surprise you to learn there are almost 20,000 gambling halls in the country. However, they little-resemble western casinos, and visitors to the gambling halls are only able to win prizes, not cash. The vast majority of these gambling halls are pachinko parlors. Pachinko is similar to a pinball-like slot game. When a player’s ball lands in a special hole, he or she is rewarded with prizes. While players cannot exchange the prizes for money on the premises, to get around the gambling laws, players can “sell” their prizes for cash at neighboring shops or booths; which are usually owned by the pachinko parlor operators. Pachinko is huge in Japan. In 2018, the parlors brought in a revenue of $200 billion. So, there is most certainly a market for gambling games in Japan.

Online Casinos

Not only does Japan not have land-based casinos. It also does not provide online casino platforms. However, Japanese people who want to play casino games like blackjack, poker, and roulette, can legally do so by visiting foreign-operated online casinos. So, web-based casinos are actually very popular in Japan. Players love playing at traditional online casinos and at a ライブカジノ (live casino), where people play games in real-time with dealers who are located in studios; enabling players a more immersive and interactive experience that is close to the experience of playing games at a brick-and-mortar casino.

Land-based Casinos

With pachinko parlors and some forms of online gambling being so popular in Japan, it is easy to see that there is a market for land-based casinos in the country. The government is taking note. After years of contentious nationwide debate throughout the country, in December 2016, Japan passed a bill that allows casino facilities to operate legally in the territory of Japan. However, the reality of brick-and-mortar casinos arriving on the Japanese landscape has still not yet manifested. Since 2018, casino operators have been bidding to run casinos at integrated resorts in three locations across Japan: Osaka, Yokohama, and Tokyo. However, at present, the proposals are that the casino resorts will only cater to overseas guests and locals will not be able to visit them. Furthermore, in the last few years, there have been numerous delays, unexpected high costs, and setbacks, which has led to many believing the project will turn sour.

So, what’s happening with Japan’s land-based casinos?

The original plan was that the casino resorts would be ready to open after the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Now that the Olympic Games have been postponed, so have the launch of the casinos. The bidding process is still in progress. In December 2020, policies relating to the bidding process’s next stage were agreed upon, setting standards for things like the resorts’ convention space, shopping facilities, and hotel rooms. Selection of the operators to whom licenses will be granted has now been delayed until October 2021, with results of the successful bidders expected to be announced in April 2022. So, while land-based casino resorts still look set to open in Japan, it looks very likely that they will not open until the second half of the decade, and unfortunately, Japanese locals will not be allowed to visit them.