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Under the Chapter 23 of the Criminal Code of Japan, gambling is strictly prohibited except for some motor sports and horse racing. Betting on soccer pools, lottery, and public sports are legal and are covered by special laws. These forms of betting are legalized to allow both the national and local government to earn in tax revenues and to give their citizens additional forms of entertainment.
Gambling activities in Japan date back to the 7th century. During this time, the Japanese people placed their bets on almost everything including poetry competitions. The government “gambled” on this behaviour and voted on to legalise betting to gain revenues for the government. The lucrative economy of gambling gave rise to many developments in the country since as much as 25 percent of the total sales go to the local and national projects. Traditionally, money from horse racing gets funnelled to the Ministries of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries while bicycle racing money goes to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, helping the government build numerous infrastructures for its people.
The Public Races
Japan has four types of public races that citizens can legally gamble on. This includes bicycle racing, horse racing, asphalt speedway motorcycle racing, and powerboat racing. To allow the local and national government to earn, about 75-80% of the total sales go to the prize pool for the gamblers.
Japan has strict gambling regulations but it is one of the few countries that allow punters to bet on people through boat, motorcycle, and bicycle racing. The country’s cycling event first started in 1948 but attendance to the events has since declined due to the recession. This has forced track owners to use scantily-clad women and light shows to attract more punters, most of which are men. More recently, efforts are doubled to attract a new breed of cycling fans. Keiokaku hosted a race-watching tour featuring only women. The rising popularity of cycling can be attributed to its inclusion in the London Olympics as an official sport.
The Horse Racing
One of the more popular betting game in Japan is horse race betting. In fact, horse racing in Japan is rapidly making its name in the industry primarily of its handsome prize money. This has not always been the case, though. In the early 1990s, Japanese horse racing declined significantly. It was only recently that Japanese stud farms are breathing new life. Thanks to the growing demand from Chinese investors who are keen on organizing horse races.
Japanese horse races follow either American (clockwise) or European (counter-clockwise) styles of races. The Japan Racing Association sees to it that the horse racing rules are strictly implemented. Aside from JRA race tracks, Japan also has racetracks governed by the local municipal government.
Horse race betting in Japan is only legal when it is done via the pari-mutuel betting. This means that the odds are dictated by the amount of the nationwide bet. Punters can place their bets directly at any racetrack or via off-track betting sites or WINS.
Punters need to know the horse number or the particular bracket they belong, the race number, the type of track, and the type of bet they want to make. There are many types of bets one can make in a Japanese horse race. This includes Win, Place, Exactas, Quinella, Bracket Quinella, and Trifecta.
Probably one of the more famous form of entertainment in Japan is the Pachinko, a pinball-like slot machine game. Despite being a slot machine game, it is not banned in Japan as long as players do not play for cash. It is also an accepted gaming activity due to its historical and cultural significance. When visiting the Land of the Rising Sun, it is not unusual to find pachinko parlours. It has, in fact, become part of the Japanese way of living. Bright neon lights and lively sounds attract hundreds of players who want to have some form of entertainment from their busy lives. To date, Japan has about 10,600 pachinko parlours all over the country.
Aside from public races, Japanese locals can also bet on lotteries. In Japan, the lotteries are held by large cities or prefectures. Also called Takarakuji, these lotteries are regularly held throughout the year. The Japanese lottery is divided into three main types: scratch cards, selected number lotteries, and unique number lotteries. Lottery tickets for each types cost 100 to 500 yen, with jackpot prizes often amounting to more than 100 million yen. It should be noted that in Japan, the Takarakuji Law states that a winner should not get more than 50% of the prize pool. A huge percentage of the total sales should be given to charities and local governments.
The country’s first ever lottery draw is believed to be held at the Ryuanji Temple in Mino, Osaka around 1575. The box used in drawing the lottery numbers during the mid-Edo period is still used at the temple. Japanese lottery was extremely popular during the Edo period but they were eventually banned when several unfortunate events were linked to it. Lotteries only came into existence again in the Second World War to raise some funds.
A quick trivia: Japan conducted a Kachifunda lottery as the war was about to end. The said lottery collected around 200 million yen. When the war ended, the winner was never chosen and the money was never awarded.
Before, the popularity of lotteries during had many Japanese locals looking forward to purchasing their Jumbo Takarakuji tickets around New Year. Broadcasted over the television, the winning numbers of this lottery are drawn by using arrows firing at fast-spinning targets. The numbers at which the arrows will land on are the winning numbers. Lotteries like the Summer Jumbo lottery often get long lines for ticket purchase because of the huge prizes at stake, some even amounting to as much as 200 million yen. In recent years, however, ticket sales declined dramatically. Authorities blame the disinterest to the difficulty of winning the jackpot prize.
Japan also offers its citizens the soccer lotteries. The government hopes that Toto money will help generate income to fund several sports organizations and subsequently raise the interest towards the J-League soccer. The games are more accessible, with locals able to bet using their mobile phones, through the internet, or via convenience stores. It is yet to gain traction in the country since the chance of winning is also low. Punters have to wager on 13 J-League games that have 1.6 million possible combinations.
Illegal Gambling Industry of Japan
For individuals addicted to gambling, the games offered by the Japanese government is still enough to satisfy their hunger for more excitement and cash. In Las Vegas, a large percentage of Asian punters are Japanese. It seems like gambling is somewhat inculcated into their culture. Since there are still no brick and mortar casinos in Japan, many casino game enthusiasts living in the country resort to dealing with operators of underground casinos. Some of these casinos are run by the Yakuza, known to go after players with huge debts to them as a result of illegal gambling.
Some of the savvy gamblers use the power of the internet to satiate their casino cravings. Online casinos are rampant in Japan, but they are not regulated by the national government as these offshore casinos often have an international license.
Japan is also notorious for having a robust online gaming habit. In 2012, the issue of the legality of online games that require players to dice for virtual currency. Virtual currencies earned via online gaming can be exchanged for real money. It should be noted that the Criminal Code states that games requiring players to play for real money are illegal. One such game is the popular Dragon Quest X. Players can invite others to play dice games and earn virtual currency. They then exchange the currency for real cash via real money trade (RMT) websites. These RMT websites capitalize on the need of the online players to advance their levels on the games that they play on. Through the buy and sell of virtual currency, RMT sites are now believed to be worth 10 billion yen. These sites are not regulated by law.
The same thing can be said about the ever-popular game of pachinko. The pinball-like slot machine is a favourite pastime among Japanese of all ages. To some, the game can be a form of entertainment. For others, it is an entertaining way to earn cash. Pachinko allows players to earn balls as they play. They can use the balls to keep playing or they can have the balls exchanged within the pachinko parlour for any merchandise that a player may want. When players want to exchange their balls for prizes, a parlour staff will assist them in counting the total number of balls. Winners will be issued with a voucher, which they can use when buying any novelty items or merchandise. They can also sell these vouchers for cash at a shop just outside the parlour.