Things to Know About the History and Current Gambling Climate in Japan

Geisha Japanese Flag and Pachinko Machines

Japanese culture is fascinating and rich in every aspect. Its art, philosophies, and rules on how to conduct oneself in social settings are just a few things to consider. The Japanese also hold the values of hard work, perseverance, discipline, and respect in high regard.

When gambling emerged in Japan, it wasn’t long before it was rampant throughout the nation. There was no lack of creativity when it came to finding something to place a bet on.

The tale of the relationship that Japan has had and currently has with gambling is more than compelling, to say the least. From hardcore street betting to the outlawing of betting of any sort, Japan has seen it’s up and downs surrounding gambling.

Here are five things you might want to know about the history and current gambling climate of Japan.

Gambling in Japan Began With a Game Similar to Backgammon

According to a historical account from the 8th century, Emperor Tenmu enjoyed playing a game that involved dice that was reminiscent of backgammon. This game was called ban-sugoroku, which translates to “double six.” Empress Jito was the next to sit on the throne, and it was during her time that this game was banned.

Bakuto (professional gamblers) emerged from this period of rampant gambling in what is now present-day Kyoto. With the emergence of these professional gamblers came more and more violence surrounding gambling activities.

In the 13th century, Japanese officials created nine edicts that prohibited gambling. In the Edo Period, samurais were not to participate in gambling. However, the higher class of samurais were permitted to drink, gamble, and hang out with prostitutes.

Japanese Board Game Bansugoroku

If you were just a regular citizen, you could be sentenced to death for gambling during this period. But as is the case with most human civilizations and gambling, the authorities were unable to completely eradicate gambling as an institution.

In 1718, petty gambling was made legal and this meant that lotteries and bets under 50 “mon” were permitted. At this point, many gambling games became popular such as yoido, kitsune, shoso-shiroku, shishita, oome-kome, bin korogashi, and chobo-ichi.

Chobo-ichi was a dice game that really came to prominence at this time, and the Asakusa area was riddled with gambling sheds due to the popularity of chobo-ichi, which attracted a very rough crowd.

Although dice games were popular, card games also began to emerge at this point. Cards were introduced to Japanese culture by the Portuguese in the 16th century. Zanmai was one of the most popular card games and was very similar to blackjack. Instead of 21 being the winning number, it was 19.

Pachinko Was Invented During World War II

Pachinko is an extremely unique game where a small ball is thrown by a lever and is thus thrown onto the playing field.

When the ball slows down, it lands into an area that has brass receivers, pins, and nails that each represent a pocket where you can win different amounts of money or the jackpot. The point of the game is to collect as many balls as you possibly can. Then, you exchange the balls for your prize money.

The Corinth game was brought to Japan in the 1920s from game manufacturers from Chicago. This game was similar to Old English Bagatelle, only it was geared towards children. This game, known as Corinthian Bagatelle, was a hit in children’s stores where kids could play for fruits and sweets. Children nicknamed this game pachi-pachi.

In 1930, the game of pachinko started to evolve as the city of Nagoya hosted the first game room. This created a pachinko frenzy amongst the populace. Pachinko became so popular that pachinko machines had to be banned at the onset of World War II.

However, the game of pachinko was not done evolving yet and later merged as slot machines. These came to be known as pachi slots. Pachi slots are not like regular slot machines. When playing slots, you activate the reel and you hope that you win the big bucks. Pachi slots require skill to play them. The player must practice in order to improve their perception and reflexes.

Right now there are over 5 million pachi slots and pachinko machines in Japan. On average, there is one machine for every 25 people. There are also over 12,000 gaming rooms that contain these machines.

In Japan, the woman of the household is usually in charge of the finances. Therefore, they are the target audience for the advertising of pachi slots. Advertisements such as “women’s day” are used regularly to entice women to come and play at the game rooms.

In 2018, over 190 billion dollars was generated by the pachi slots and pachinko.

Mahjong Was Brought to Japan in 1924

A soldier by the name of Saburo Hirayama brought mahjong to Japan in 1924 where he started a mahjong school, parlor, and club in Tokyo. This led to a rapid increase in the popularity of mahjong in Japan. Japanese mahjong became a simplified version of Chinese mahjong.

Mahjong Game Setup

After this simplified version of mahjong came into existence, rules were added increasing the complexity of the game. There are over 8,000 mahjong parlors in Japan today and it is without a doubt the most popular table game in Japan.

There are also professional mahjong players that compete against each other in tournaments.

Casinos Are in the Forecast for Japan

Currently, there are no land based casinos in Japan. But over the past 20 years, there have been many valiant efforts to integrate casinos into Japanese gambling culture. These attempts had been unsuccessful until a bill passed in July of 2018 that made casinos legal in Japan. However, only three casino licenses will eventually be granted.

The first casinos will be integrated into resorts. Japan is serious about preserving morale, so there will be strict guidelines regarding playing at casinos that must be adhered to.

Japanese citizens will only be able to play at casinos up to three times per week and one cannot play more than 10 times per month. A 6,000-yen entrance fee will be required. This is a bit steep, but it’s meant to try to prevent problem gambling.

Osaka has gotten the ball rolling as far as getting a casino resort establishment off the ground. Five companies have applied for a casino resort license there. They are Genting Singapore, Melco Resorts, MGM Resorts, Wynn Resorts, and Las Vegas Sands.

MGM Resorts is the only company that has submitted a bid to open a casino in Osaka. Wynn Resorts, Las Vegas Sands, and Melco Resorts are trying to open casinos in Tokyo and Yokohama as well. So, perhaps we will see a casino in Osaka, a casino in Tokyo, and a casino in Yokohama.

Public Sports Betting and Lotteries Are Legal in Japan

In Japan, public sports betting is legal and regulated by local authorities. These public sports include asphalt speedway motorcycle racing, powerboat racing, bicycle racing, and horse racing.

Horse racing is extremely popular in Japan. There are more than 20,000 horse races held there each year. Yutaka Take is currently the top jockey in Japan and travels around the world competing in top-flite stakes races.

Japanese Horse Racing Stadium

Since pari-mutuel betting is legal in Japan, so are football pools under certain regulations. However, online sports betting is currently illegal in Japan. Playing the lottery is an extremely popular form of legal gambling in Japan today.

Throughout the entire year, lotteries are held by large cities. The three main types of lotteries that exist in Japan are scratch-off tickets, selected number lotteries, and unique number lotteries.

Top cash prizes can be around 100 million yen, and a cash prize for any lottery in Japan must be less than 50% of the total sales. The remainder of the money must go to the government.


Gambling in Japan has a rich history and is definitely an integral part of Japanese culture past and present.

Many films, stories of fiction, and even anime depict gambling activities that are unique to Japan.

It looks like there will be three casino resorts in Japan in the near future. Who knows? Maybe your next casino venture will be to Japan. Perhaps they will get on the online sports betting train as well, but only time will tell.

Did you enjoy reading about the history of gambling in Japan? If so, let me know in the comments.