Later this year, Japanese lawmakers are expecting to vote on the Promotional Integrated Resorts Bill. If the vote goes the right way, this could pave the way for the development of Japan’s very first casinos – which may well be ready just in time for the 2020 Olympics Games. This is not the first time the bill has been slated for discussion, only to be postponed, however – and until the day it is actually passed, gambling will still remain illegal. And – technically – anyone gambling, or providing the opportunity to gamble, could face prosecution.
If that’s the case, then how has Pachinko – the Japanese slot game that’s played in Pachinko parlours rather than casinos, but is still very much a gamblers past-time – become so widespread and popular? The answer is two-fold: one massive loop hole, and a government who consistently turns a blind eye.
Pachinko parlours will never pay out cash when you win the jackpot, as that would of course be illegal. Instead – you can exchange your winning tokens for gifts, trinkets and small toys. These items would be pretty much worthless – if there wasn’t another store just around the corner standing by to buy those very same items back from you for cold hard cash.
This system has been happily ignored by the government – who make no attempt to regulate or police the Pachinko business. There are some who would claim that this stems from the connection of Pachinko Parlours to organised crime and money laundering operations – although others would argue that it’s not worth their hassle while the tax they make from both the parlour owners and from those running the exchange points is coming in.
The one thing the government do at least attempt to regulate is how often a Pachinko should payout (the ‘win ratio’). However – those running the parlours can manually tweak the machines, and set them to pay out as much (or as little) as they like – and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that they regularly do – making the jackpot more likely on busy days (so that the wins will be seen by more people), and then tweaking once more to make it less likely once everyone is hooked and convinced that a particular machine is a regular winner.
If the Promotional Integrated Resorts Bill is passed as expected later this year, this could start Japan on the road towards its first casinos – which may in turn effect the way people play Pachinko. But until that day, players will need to keep swapping their balls and tokens for prizes, and then selling those prizes on one stop down the road – if they want to stay on the right side of the law.