Almost every form of gambling in Japan has been illegal since 1882. There are a few exceptions to this rule, like the national lottery and certain forms of horse and motor racing, but there has not been a legal land-based or in the country for more than a hundred years. This may soon change.
Despite the current ban, gambling is immensely popular among the Japanese. There are an estimated 2,000 underground casinos in the country, generating as much as one trillion yen ($12 billion) in annual revenues. Casino gambling is legal in neighboring Korea, and of the 1.68 million gamblers who visit Korean casinos every year, nearly half come across the border from Japan. Online gambling in Japan, though also forbidden, is quite popular as well.
A bill has been submitted to parliament that could reverse the century-old ban, changing Japanese gambling laws to allow for casinos to be built in Osaka, Tokyo, and Okinawa. Lawmakers are carefully considering the social implications of such a decision, though the primary driving force behind the move is clearly financial. There is already tremendous resistance from anti-gambling groups who are quick to point out the dangers of addiction and underage gambling.
The Korea Casino Association is terrified of the possibility that Japan may get its own casinos, and has already predicted losses of around 780 billion won ($683 million) in revenue if the law passes. Korean casinos are open to foreigners only, and if Japanese gamblers can play at home, it means a lot of lost business. Macau is also concerned, for their revenue relies heavily on money brought over by Korean gamblers, but if Japan gets casinos, Koreans may choose to play there instead.
It is too early to tell if this bill will pass, but it has the power to bring great change and opportunity to Japan’s gambling industry. It may even foreshadow the coming of Japanese internet casinos. Change, however, will happen slowly, and the debate may go on for a while before a decision is reached.