Is gambling popular in Japan? Japanese Gambling History

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Anyone who is even slightly informed about Japan and its culture might be suspicious about the sole existence of gambling in this country. Yet, gambling in Japan had begun long before modern day minimum deposit casinos ( 最低入金額 カジノ) were invented. However, one of the world’s favorite pastimes has gone through a lot of turbulence in the Land of the Rising Sun, and it is still going through some changes today.

It started slow, with a simple board game, and then went from being completely banned to somewhat allowed. These events have only made the story all the more interesting, and the text below will show you how it has unfolded in chronological order.

It All Began With Ban-Sugoroku

Japanese Emperor Tenmu was the one who made the first move towards introducing gambling in the country. During his reign, the Emperor enjoyed playing a game called ban-sugoroku, which was similar to well-known games such cribbage and backgammon. After his death, the throne was taken over by Empress Jito who banned the game completely.

Nevertheless, Japanese people kept playing it, along with many other games, and the fun part included betting on cockfights and horse racing. These activities, which mostly took place in Kyoto, produced professional gamblers known as Bakuto. These gambling enthusiasts were one of the reasons why Japanese officials decided to prohibit gambling.

The laws remained in force until 1718, when gambling classification was put to paper. Japanese authorities legalized light bets, including lotteries and bets under 50 mon. Additionally, during this period, many dice and card games became popular in Japan, one of which was zanmai, a game similar to today’s blackjack.

Pachinko — Japan’s Gaming Obsession

The next in line was pachinko, which arrived in Japan in the 1920s. It was first sent from Chicago, and it was known as Corinthian Bagatelle — a children’s version of bagatelle pinball. At first, this game targeted children who played it for fruits and sweets.

The children named it pachi pachi, which was the onomatopoeia of the sound the game produced when many small balls were thrown into the playing box by a lever. The balls would then land into specific pockets, and the players would win a jackpot or some smaller amounts of money. The goal of the game was to collect as many balls as possible and exchange them for real money prizes.

The game later evolved and became popular among adults as well, but it disappeared during World War II. After the war, pachinko returned and became the main gambling device, similar to today’s slot machines. However, the pachi slots are not exactly a simple game of chance, as it takes some skill and practice to make them work for you.

The game is still popular in Japan, with over 5 million machines spread around thousands of gaming rooms.

Japanese Mahjong

Another game that entered the Japanese gambling market was Mahjong, which was brought from China by a soldier named Saburo Hirayama. Japanese players first got the simplified version of Mahjong, However, later on more rules were added to it. 

Mahjong has remained one of Japan’s most popular table games to date. Still, this activity is not exactly accepted as a legal form of gambling.

Are There Casinos in Japan?

In 2018, Japan finally decided to integrate land-based casino venues into its culture. Still, there are no brick-and-mortar casinos in Japan at the moment. That is why the first casino owners who set their foot in this country will have to build integrated resorts that will have to follow strict government guidelines.

For example, any Japanese citizen who wants to play casino games will have a chance to do so up to three times per week. Also, players won’t be allowed to play casino games more than 10 times per month. On top of that, every Japanese player will have to pay a JPY6,000 fee only to enter a casino.

Several casinos that wanted to settle in Osaka have applied for casino resort licenses, while some have also targeted Tokyo and Yokohama. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic and the postponement of the Olympic Games have halted all operations for now.

Legal Gambling in Japan — Public Sports Betting and Lotteries

If public sports betting is your thing, you should know that you can legally participate in it in Japan. The available sports you can bet on include horse racing, bicycle racing, powerboat racing, and asphalt speedway motorcycle racing. Horse racing is by far the most popular betting market, perhaps because more than 20,000 races are held in Japan annually.

Football pools are also available for wagering but only under specific regulations. However, bear in mind that online sports betting is not legal in this country.

Finally, Japanese people can take part in lotteries, primarily in selected number lotteries, unique number lotteries, and scratch-off tickets. A designated cash prize for each of the lotteries can only go up to 50% of the total sales. The rest of the money belongs to the government. Yet, despite this regulation, lottery cash prizes can reach up to 100 million yen.


Japan is a unique country in many ways, and its gambling history is a work of art itself. Namely, gambling in Japan started with a classic board game played in one’s free time. Then, this pastime — and all other forms of gambling, for that matter — was absolutely forbidden for a while.

Over the years, some quite specific games got integrated into Japanese culture. Eventually, the government decided to give the green light to the legalization of land-based casinos. Hopefully, they will say yes to online sports betting soon as well, thus completing the long-awaited gambling package Japanese players have been waiting for.