In the wake of the horrific tsunami and reactor leak, the Japanese tourist industry has suffered a devastating blow that may take years to recover. Analysts were already forecasting the beginning of a dip in overall intra-Asia tourism for Japan, prior to the double disaster, due to increased interest in Macau and Singapore mega-casinos.
Gambling insiders had a flicker of hope that the disasters may convince the government to begin liberalizing Japanese gambling laws to jumpstart the hemorrhaging tourism industry. So far there are few politicians even interested in discussing gambling and entertainment when the tragedy is still fresh in survivors’ memories.
“It’s just too soon,” was the response heard from all political spectrums. This is indeed discouraging news for proponents of mega resort casinos as well as online casinos in Japan. In the past, all efforts have failed to convince the government about the many benefits that a Las Vegas/Macau style casino would have on Japan’s economy.
Not that there is a shortage of casinos in Japan, with proper western roulette, slots, blackjack, poker, baccarat and mahjong. Unfortunately, the casinos are underground and illegal. Each is operated by or protected by different Yakuza mafia clans. Each Yakuza family publishes a Directory Listing each year of all their members and associates.
It’s very convenient to find which gangster is in charge of your town’s illegal casino, and after a quick phone call, you will be on your way to a real Yakuza gambling den.
The Japanese gambling laws forbid all forms of gambling except lotteries (Takarakuji), toto and public sports races (Koeikyogi) comprising of motorboats, horses, bicycles and motorcycles. There is also the unique game of Pachinko, which is not legally considered gambling due to a clever use of loopholes within the Japanese gambling laws.
According to online gambling news in Japan, Pachinko is played with small iron beads that have an identical cash value. The beads, or Pachinko balls, are used instead of currency to operate the Pachinko machine. All rewards are also paid in the same Pachinko balls. The balls are dropped one at a time inside a device the size of a slot machine. As the ball falls down, different obstacles change its direction, until it eventually lands in one of many pockets/holes at the bottom of the Pachinko game.
Different landing holes have different payout amounts with a few huge jackpots floating around. The balls can’t be directly exchanged for currency (that would be gambling) when the player decides to finish the game. Instead, the remaining Pachinko balls are taken to a prize counter where they are exchanged for a non-cash prize.
The concept is similar to prize booths at a kiddy amusement park where the more tickets won, the better the prize. In Pachinko, there is only one prize. Little slivers of pure gold a few grams in weight each. The gold is taken across the street or to an adjacent booth where a different company exchanges the gold for hard currency.
It’s a lawyer’s way of pretend that no gambling takes place because the spirit of the law is broken. It would be much more ethical and honest to just legalize Pachinko instead of lying to oneself.
It brings memories of President Bill Clinton, who famously said “That depends on your definition of what the word ‘is’.”