Japan - a Casino Market Worth $15 billion!

by Dave Brown
11/08/2019
Legal casinos to be developed in Japan

The Japanese Real Money Casino Market is estimated to be worth $15.9 billion a year. Some say as high as $20 billion. With the government approving a new casino bill in 2018, allowing the establishment of casino resorts, big international casino operators like MGM and Sands are now fighting for their piece of the casino-cake.

The Japanese government has yet to decide which cities will host the 3 new casino resorts, a decision that can only be made once the cities themselves choose to participate in the hosting competition. Several cities around Japan are still considering the pros (income and jobs) and cons (crime and addiction) of a casino resort development. Even though Yokohama has been on the discussion table since the start, it only recently (08/19) became official that Yokohama has decided to participate in the bid for one of the resorts. The main foreign operators early made their choices, the Las Vegas Sands Corp is focusing on getting the Tokyo and Yokohama areas and MGM Resorts early announced they were aiming at Osaka and as of August 2019 both companies stay committed to their initial plans. 

So why is the Japanese gambling industry so interesting for these big giants? Without a doubt, because of the potential of this market. Who would not want to get a third of a $20 million industry - each year? 

The Japanese gambling scene has always been a controversial one. Some might even call it rocky, given the excessive need for maintaining conservative traditions while facing the eye-catching Western entertainment options. With strict gambling regulations and a very thin line between skill games that are legal, and luck-based games that are illegal, players have a hard time discerning among games and choosing legal options while still getting the level of entertainment they desire. However, the most recent developments in the land casino industry are showing hope for Japanese gamblers and investors alike.

While the main actors early on started to prepare themselves for gaining the rights to one of the three resorts, hoping to be able to open the first casino in time for the Tokyo hosted Summer Olympics in 2020, the government is still, mid-2019,  working out the details.  It is not yet clear where the three casino resorts will be located but the odds are in favor of Osaka.   Let's take a closer look!

The Future Of Online Gaming In Japan

The most recent developments that will lead to legal casino gambling in the country are prone to turn Japan into the third-largest gambling market on the globe, following Macau and the United States. With a market estimated to be worth more than $15 billion, both foreign casino operators, as well as the government, see the potential economic gains to be made by legalizing gambling.  

The country started the process towards legal gambling in 2018 when the government finally passed the Bill Promoting Implementation of Specified Integrated Resort Areas. The important change of the gambling legislation finally allows for big casino names like Las Vegas Sands Corp. and MGM Resorts International to get the privilege to set new headquarters in the lucrative market of Japan.  Rumors have it that these operators are committed to an investment of $10 billion per resort in Japan (!). 

The cities that are most likely to get one of the three casino resorts are:

  • Osaka
  • Nagasaki
  • Wakayama
  • Hokkaido
  • Tokyo

Each casino resort will be developed around gambling tourism with hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, and conference rooms, expected to generate an income of nearly $2 billion per year annually. 

Details of the Legislation and Public Concerns 

Some see the new legislation as a result of Japanese government officials striving to pull the country out of the economic slump it has been in during the last years. New investments into freshly growing industries like mobile gaming and land casinos could lead the way to success as this is expected to aid promote tourism, create more jobs and encourage small, local and national businesses and corporations to grow. But there are concerns and not everyone agrees that gambling is the best way out of an "economic slump".  

The casino bill imposes a 15%-tax on casino profits and a casino entrance fee ( 3000 yen) for Japanese residents only. Despite these constraints targeting the Japanese population, there are concerns about the potentially negative social and economic consequences for the population as gambling increases. Opinion polls in Japan show that nearly 2/3 of the population is opposed the legalization due to concerns of an increase in crime and the risks of gambling abuse. These concerns have delayed the implementation of the new casino bill and it is reasonable to assume that no casino will be ready in time for the Summer Olympics 2020.  So what is going on? 

A year into the process the government has assigned a dedicated Casino Management Committee with the overall responsibility of "maintaining order" of the casino legislation process. By the end of July 2020, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) must present an implementation policy to be followed by cities applying for the approval of a casino resort development. 

In March 2019 the MLIT started to present some of their conditions related to the actual development of the casino resorts:

Advertisement: Will be allowed only at international airports/cruise ship terminals

Financial Transactions: Operators are obligated to report to the government of any cash transaction of above 1 million yen (about $9000)

Building Constraints: The area of the casino itself must not exceed 3% of the total resort area. 

Today's (Online) Gambling Scene In Japan

If you live in, or visit, Japan and read this article then you can rest assured that most of the casinos reviewed on our site are accessible for Japanese players just as to gamblers from other parts of the world. The reason for this is that they are owned, and operated by, foreign companies. 

Online lottery games, as well as soccer toto and public sports wagering, are currently legal in Japan. Nonetheless, gamblers who are passionate about playing poker, roulette or slots are not allowed to access any Japanese online casinos unless they join foreign casinos, managed by operators outside of the country, like the casinos we have reviewed and tested for you.

Most of today's gaming and gambling laws in Japan are dated back to the 20th century, which means they are completely outdated. Horseback riding and bicycle races were the only legal activities in terms of betting, with motorbike races and boat racing being added later on. These are the only four legally accepted public sports the Japanese can wager on. All four are controlled by local governments or government corporations. 

While the country prepares to gamble legally at casinos, the issue regarding online gambling has for the most of it been left out.  Online casino gambling IS legal in Japan, as long as one is playing at a casino operated by a company outside of Japan, like those we recommend. Any online gaming on sites operated by Japanese companies is still considered illegal in Japan in 2019. There are no licenses given to Japanese operators to run their venues over the internet and as of today, we do not know what the future of online gambling will look like for the local operators. 

Mobile Gaming 

The same principle of online gaming applies to mobile gaming. You can take your gaming on the go as long as you choose one of the foreign operators for your gaming, just as if you would like to play online on your pc. 

But pay attention, casino games provided by Japanese companies are still illegal in Japan,  The alternative provided by foreign providers still stands. 

Local Gaming with 20,000+ Gambling Halls To Choose From

Japan counts an impressive number of gambling halls that cater to the needs of millions of adults looking for entertainment, especially at night. There are more than 20,000 such venues that are known to offer entertainment with prizes and lots of them are almost excursively dedicated to pachinko Games. Pachinko is a vertical pinball game that has created a real craze in Japan, with millions of passionate players gathering in huge halls and playing the game simultaneously. It's an explosion of color and sounds that are impossible to ignore. A Pachinko machine can process up to 100 balls per minute, with the game ending when a player loses all the steel balls or chooses to cash out and turn in the steel balls in exchange for small widgets or computers and electric scooters.

Since gambling for many years has been outlawed in Japan, gamblers sometimes choose to accept nondescript tokens in the form of prizes. The tokens can be exchanged for cash via unofficial operators that are illegal in Japan. Players can also opt for the online version of the game and play for real money. They can this way avoid the packed Pachinko parlors and play their favorite game from the comfort of their home. Most of the online versions of the game are extremely realistic and feature top-notch graphics and features. They can be found on foreign casino websites that accept Japanese players.

Illegal Gaming & Grey-area Casinos

There are plenty of blanket laws that are prohibiting the majority of physical forms of gambling, while online gambling usually remains unchallenged by the government. With no official public records with examples of people who have been prosecuted for wagering or playing casino games on the web, players will most likely continue to try their luck with both grey-area Japanese casinos online, as well as legal foreign web gambling venues. Article 185 states that an individual who gambles will be punished “by a fine of not more than 500,000 yen or a petty fine”. The same paragraph, however, mentions the fact the punishment will not be applied to a person who “bets a thing which is provided for momentary entertainment”.

Play Safe Online by Choosing a Recommended Online Casino

The future of gambling in Japan probably seems even brighter and definitely more lucrative than you could have imagined but it's a long process until the first casino resort will be ready to open. In the meanwhile, Japanese players have hundreds of reliable foreign operated web casinos that welcome gamblers from Japan.  We strongly advise staying away from the more blurry casinos with unknown ownership that may offer great bonuses to Japanese players but actually might involve illegal gambling. 

This article was updated in September 2019. 

Other Articles in our series of "Gaming Industries Around the World":

Latin America - A growing Gambling Market!

Nigeria - All You Need to Know About Gambling in Nigeria

France - On Top of The Gambling World

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