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The History, Present, And Future Of Gambling In Japan


History of Gambling in Japan

Gambling in Japan has a long and complex history, characterized by periods of acceptance and prohibition. Historical records suggest that forms of gambling, such as sugoroku (a board game similar to backgammon), have been popular since ancient times. The Edo period (1603-1868) saw the emergence of various gambling games, often associated with the yakuza (organized crime syndicates). Despite gambling being officially banned, underground gambling establishments thrived.

The Meiji Restoration (1868-1912) brought about a modernization of Japan, including efforts to control and regulate gambling. However, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that more structured forms of legal gambling were introduced. Horse racing was legalized in 1906, and in the post-World War II era, other forms of gambling, such as boat racing, bicycle racing, and motorcycle racing, were also sanctioned.

Present State of Gambling in Japan

Today, gambling in Japan is tightly regulated. The most prominent legal forms of gambling include:

Public Sports Betting: Betting on horse racing, boat racing, bicycle racing, and motorcycle racing is legal and popular. These activities are regulated by the government, ensuring a significant source of revenue through taxation.

Pachinko: A unique form of gambling, pachinko resembles a vertical pinball machine. Players purchase small steel balls and aim to win more balls, which can be exchanged for prizes or tokens. These tokens can then be exchanged for cash at nearby establishments. Pachinko parlors are widespread and immensely popular, with the industry generating billions of yen annually.

Lottery (Takarakuji): Various forms of lottery games are legal, including scratch cards and number lotteries. The lottery is government-operated, and a portion of the proceeds goes to public works and charitable activities.

Mahjong: Although often associated with gambling, playing mahjong for money is technically illegal. However, it remains a popular pastime, with many enthusiasts playing in private settings or underground parlors.

Future of Gambling in Japan

The future of gambling in Japan is poised for significant change, primarily due to the government’s decision to legalize casino gambling. In 2016, the Integrated Resort (IR) Promotion Law was passed, paving the way for the development of large-scale casino resorts. These resorts will combine casinos with hotels, shopping, and entertainment facilities, aimed at boosting tourism and stimulating the economy.

The first three IR licenses are expected to be issued, with locations in Osaka, Yokohama, and Nagasaki among the frontrunners. The process has faced various delays due to political, social, and economic considerations, including public concern over gambling addiction and the potential influence of organized crime. However, the government is implementing strict regulations and safeguards to address these issues.

The introduction of casino resorts is expected to transform Japan’s gambling landscape, potentially making it one of the leading gambling destinations in Asia. These developments align with broader efforts to diversify Japan’s economy and attract international tourists, especially in the post-COVID-19 era.

Challenges and Considerations

While the prospects for gambling in Japan appear promising, several challenges remain:

Gambling Addiction: With the expansion of legal gambling options, there are heightened concerns about gambling addiction. The government has pledged to implement robust measures to mitigate this risk, including strict entry controls for locals and extensive public awareness campaigns.

Regulation and Oversight: Ensuring effective regulation and oversight of the new casino resorts will be crucial. The government must balance economic benefits with social responsibilities, preventing any negative impacts associated with gambling.

Cultural Acceptance: Gambling has historically been viewed with skepticism in Japan. Gaining broader cultural acceptance and ensuring that gambling does not adversely affect societal values will be critical for the success of the new initiatives.


Gambling in Japan has evolved from ancient games and clandestine activities to a highly regulated and economically significant industry. The legalization of casino resorts marks a new chapter in this evolution, promising economic benefits and transforming Japan’s gambling landscape. However, careful management and regulation will be essential to ensure that the growth of the gambling industry aligns with societal interests and public welfare. As Japan navigates this new frontier, the balance between economic gain and social responsibility will be key to the sustainable development of its gambling sector.