Is gambling still illegal in Japan?

Most forms of gambling in Japan are generally prohibited by Chapter 23 of the Criminal Code; however, there are several exceptions, including betting on horse racing and certain motorsports. Most gambling is illegal in Japan, but there are exceptions. Betting on some sports such as horse racing and certain motorsports is allowed, and football pools known as “toto” and lottery are allowed by special laws. Japan's strict gambling regulations and laws mean that no casino has been allowed to operate on Japanese soil.

However, it seems that this is about to change. Online gambling remains illegal even after the Act comes into force. However, recently there have been ongoing discussions within the Japanese government regarding the legalization of sports betting in football and baseball. See questions 1, 1 and 3, 1 above.

Gambling in Japan has been strictly prohibited and regulated since Chapter 23 of the Penal Code, also known as Law No. 45 of the Penal Code of Japan, explicitly prohibited organized gambling or private sale of lottery tickets, with heavy fines in yen and imprisonment as a deterrent. Before they can do so, Japan will have to lift the ban on gambling, which is currently illegal in most forms. For legal purposes, pachinko machines are technically considered “gambling”.

Officially speaking, gambling in Japan has been illegal since 1907, near the end of the Meiji era. During this time, of course, many “unofficial” casinos have appeared in Tokyo and outside the capital, largely managed or connected to the Yakuza, a notorious criminal organization in Japan. While entering one of these casinos would rarely get you in trouble with the police, you won't have to watch your back any less. In addition, considering that money lending could accelerate gambling problems, access to money lending is only available to (a) customers who have the financial ability to deposit with the operator of the casino business cash in excess of 10 million yen, and (b) non-resident foreign customers.

Since the casino operation to be carried out within the IR will be excluded from the general gambling ban, persons and entities participating in the IR operation will be subject to strict regulation. As for other forms of gambling in Japan, it can be difficult to navigate the complexities and nuances of the law without having a knowledge of the language and without knowing much about regulations. The Yakuza is involved in several illegal activities, including the usurpation of loans and the operation of illegal gambling halls. The crime of managing a place to play also requires managing a place to play and “making a profit” 10 and the term “making a profit” is understood to mean intending to obtain an illegal financial benefit (in the form of fees, commissions or other) under consideration.

However, following a series of illegal gambling scandals in recent years and arguments by the opposition, the movement has not gone far. This type of betting is used in many countries around the world where standard forms of gambling are prohibited. However, the situation is changing with the full legalization of gambling and casinos in Japan practically imminent (at least until Covid-19 closes tourism to Japan, more on that in a second). Article 186, section 2, of the Criminal Code further provides that any person who, for profit, manages a gambling house or organizing a group of regular players shall be punished by imprisonment of not less than three months but not more than five years.

For example, once the government and citizens see that regulated casinos can generate revenues without causing an increase in gambling addiction, Japan is likely to create laws on online casinos. As now, gambling was banned in feudal Japan, so players had to set up gambling houses in abandoned temples or shrines on the outskirts of towns and cities. It is understood that this term is something of very low value that will not unduly stimulate a person's passion for the game. It seems that with the new casino permits, gambling is aiming to become more widespread in the future.

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Makayla Henegan
Makayla Henegan

Typical gamer. Hardcore twitter ninja. Unapologetic food ninja. Amateur tv geek. Avid social media nerd.

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