What Can You Gamble on in Japan?

National Flag of Japan on Left and Casino Games on Right

Japan has largely been against gambling throughout its history. Even today, it only offers a few forms of legal gambling.

If you visit the Land of the Rising Sun, you may have trouble figuring out what you’re allowed to gamble on. The good news is that Japan does at least offer some forms of gambling.

I’m going to cover what exactly you can bet on in this country. I’ll also discuss if you can legally gamble online here.

Japan Used to Be Stricter on Gambling

Japan has been a traditional country for many centuries. It commonly frowns on vices such as gambling.

Up until now, only a few forms of gambling have been legal in Japan. Pachinko, lotteries, horse racing betting, and “public sports” were the only options up until 2018.

Within the same year, the Japanese Diet approved legislation for casino gaming. This bill greatly expands the gambling options in this country.

Casino resorts will become available within several years after they’re built. These resorts are expected to be on par with the massive casino complexes in Las Vegas, Macau, and Singapore.

At the time of this writing, MGM Resorts has won a contract to build a casino in Osaka. Las Vegas Sands, Melco Resorts, and Wynn Resorts are currently vying for available licenses in Tokyo and Yokohama.

Why the Change of Heart in Recent Years?

The push for legal casino gaming began in Japan in the mid-2010s. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were/are big fans of the idea.

They believed that casino resorts would boost tourism in the country. Specifically, they cited the goal of attracting 60 million tourists to the country by 2030—over double the 29 million tourists at the time.

Japanese Flag With a Pachinko and Samurai Background

Furthermore, Abe and the LDP wanted to draw the same people who visit Macau and Singapore, the two biggest Asian gambling destinations.

In 2015, lawmakers submitted the Integrated Resort (IR) Enabling Act to the Diet. It was a three-year battle from here to get the legislation approved, which finally happened in 2018.

In summary, tourism and rival gaming destinations were the two main driving forces behind legalizing Japanese casinos. Japan hopes to become a regional player in the gaming market when its casinos are finished being constructed.

What Forms of Gambling Are Legal in Japan?

Japan doesn’t currently offer as many forms of gambling as the average country. Nevertheless, it does provide a few different ways for people to gamble.

Casino Games

Japan had resisted casinos for many years. However, it finally changed its tune when discussions began on the matter in the late 2010s. These discussions culminated with the legalization of casino resorts.

MGM Resorts Osaka is already a reality. MGM will soon begin work on a resort that will serve the city of 2.7 million inhabitants.

The Tokyo and Yokohama licenses have yet to be awarded. Sands, Melco, and Wynn are all in the mix for these remaining two licenses.

Japan’s casino market will still take several years to fully materialize. Once it does become available, though, then baccarat, blackjack, slot machines, and more will be offered to the Japanese.

Horse Racing Betting & Other Public Sports

In this country, public sports refer to specific types of pari-mutuel betting. They include wagering on horse racing, cycling, powerboat racing, and speedway motorcycle racing.

Horse racing is the most notable of the public sports, followed by cycling. Japan natives and visitors can wager on public sports either at the tracks or through off-track betting locations.

Lotteries

Big Japanese cities and prefectures (states) can run their own lotteries. They offer three common types of lottos, including scratch-offs, unique numbers, and selected numbers.

Lottery tickets usually cost between 100 and 500 yen. Some lotteries offer jackpots worth around 100 million yen (approx. $880,000) per drawing.

As dictated by the Takarakuji law, less than 50% of the prize pool goes to players. The rest of the money goes to support the cities/prefectures running the lottery.

Lottery Ticket With Pen Next to It

Pachinko

Pachinko is like a mixture of slot machines and pinball. With thousands of pachinko parlors available throughout the state, this game is the dominant form of Japanese gambling.

The goal of pachinko is to shoot balls into areas that deliver more balls. Players can then exchange these balls for special tokens, which, in turn, can be sold at nearby shops. This aspect is how parlors get around a law stating that players can’t receive cash payouts.

What Forms of Gambling Are Illegal?

Still imposing a fairly strict anti-gambling policy, Japan bans multiple forms of betting. You can see what’s illegal to wager on in the Land of the Rising Sun below.

Casino Games (for Now)

Casino gaming is technically legal in Japan right now. Then again, though, it’s only legal in licensed resorts.

Those resorts are still several years away from being completed. Therefore, you can’t legally play casino games in Japan at the moment.

Nevertheless, the Yakuza still operate underground casinos throughout the country. They offer traditional favorites, such as blackjack and roulette, along with Asia-centric games like Mahjong.

These illegal casinos can either be run by the Yakuza or other shady operators. In the latter case, Yakuza thugs are often hired to collect debts if necessary.

Real-Money Poker

Japan’s laws prohibit staking money to win money on unregulated forms of gambling. That said, real-money poker is illegal in this country.

The game of poker itself, however, is perfectly fine. You could even hold a free poker tournament in Japan so long as money isn’t exchanging hands.

Sports Betting

Sports gambling is largely illegal in the Land of the Rising Sun. Only select football betting pools are approved.

However, these betting pools are nothing like a full-scale sportsbook. You won’t be able to wager on most sports in Japan.

Empty Sports Betting Lounge

Online Rock-Paper-Scissors

In the late 2000s and early 2010s, Japan experienced a craze where online rock-paper-scissors betting was big. Given the lack of regulated gambling sites in the country, these (unregulated) rock-paper-scissors sites really took off.

They work by players buying tickets for around 300 yen. They can win 1,000 yen for winning three straight times and 10,000 yen for winning five times in a row.

The government eventually cracked down on internet rock-paper-scissors because operators were based on its soil. After being arrested, one operator confessed to making over $1 million in profits.

Is Online Gambling Legal in Japan?

Online gambling isn’t necessarily legal in Japan. However, the government doesn’t really take a strong stance against internet gambling either.

Therefore, many offshore sites still serve the Japanese. Online casinos, poker rooms, and sportsbooks are all available to this country.

Offshore casinos are those that operate in jurisdictions where they don’t hold licensing. They may have a license within their home country, but they haven’t gone through the proper channels to serve the jurisdictions they operate in.

At first glance, offshore gambling sites might seem shady. However, some of these operators have been serving customers faithfully for over 20 years.

That said, Japanese gamblers don’t necessarily need to fear online sportsbooks, poker rooms, and casinos. Instead, they simply need to do their homework.

Reviews are crucial when dealing with offshore sites. Gamblers want to ensure that they’re dealing with a reputable operator.

Most reviews go into a gambling site’s history and if they’ve had any ugly incidents. Slow payouts, bad customer service, and failure to honor bonus terms are all huge red flags.

Luckily, though, the majority of offshore gambling sites don’t suffer from these problems. They’re perfectly good options in Japan or any other country.

Our Thoughts on Gambling in Japan

In the past, you could hardly gamble on anything in Japan. Times have changed regarding gaming, however, in this country.

You now have access to more gambling options than ever before. Of course, this isn’t saying much when considering that Japan still substitutes pachinko for slot machines.

This situation will change, though, when casino resorts are finally completed in the mid-2020s. These casinos will provide slots, blackjack, baccarat, roulette, and more to the Japanese.

Online gambling still remains prohibited in this nation. Nevertheless, a number of offshore casinos serve Japan without incident. That said, you can just hop on one of these gambling sites if you’re ever in the Land of the Rising Sun.