Pachinko is Japan’s most popular arcade game by far, and this from the country that invented most video arcade games. It remains a mystery outside of Japan and westerner’s often struggle to understand how it works. The strict rules on gambling means that Pachinko has developed a strange set of processes, procedures and a cultural identity to bypass the legality of it.
It’s Not Technically Gambling
Gambling for money is illegal in Japan. Nowhere in Japan are you permitted to place a bet, play cards or slot machines with the expectation of winning a prize yet this happens in Pachinko every day. The loophole that Pachinko exploits is one where players trade money for the small steel balls that are a feature of the game. Players “gamble” with steel balls and get more back if they win.
It’s Not Pinball
Often referred to as “vertical pinball” by westerners, this description is essentially wrong. Balls are released once you put money into the slot. The aim is to get as many balls into the hole at the bottom. This is the opposite of pinball where the aim is to keep the single ball in play for as long as possible. You are rewarded for every ball that goes into the hole.
There is a Slot Machine Element
For every ball that goes into the hole you receive two prizes. The first prize is the release of ten further balls into play. The second prize is a spin of the slot machine at the centre of the game. This slot machine doesn’t have fruit or gold bars or other symbols, but numbers (in Japanese). You need to match all three to get a prize but something else happens when you hit two the same.
The Spin Cycle is Called The Reach Mode
When two numbers match, you won’t get the third number out automatically. The machine goes into something called “Reach Mode”. The number you are waiting for will appear as an animated figure and do battle with another animated figure (for example, two Samurai or two Pokemon characters and so on). If your number wins, you get a prize. If you don’t, you must carry on.
Winners and Losers are Expected to Remain Stony Faced
Winning the Reach Mode will lead to the machine telling the whole world about it. Everybody will turn to look at you. What you must not do is react. In fact, even when you lose big, you must not let the world know your anger and frustration either. Any excitement may lead to the owners asking you to leave the parlour. Decorum is essential no matter how you perform.
Cashing Out is Complex
Had enough of playing? Great, now you have to run the gauntlet of claiming your prizes. Firstly, you need to alert a member of staff to the win by pressing the call button. Then, indicate that you’ve had enough, usually by crossing your arms in an X. They will then produce a card from the machine to tell you how many balls you have won. Then, it is time to leave the premises to collect your prize – the parlour is not responsible due to gambling for cash being illegal.
You May Not Remove Balls from the Parlour
The steel balls with which you play and determine your prize value must remain on the premises at all times. You may not use them at another pachinko bar even though they are generic balls suitable for all machines. Some may stamp their balls to ensure everyone knows where they came from.
Prizes Come From the Tuck Shop
To most of us, a tuck shop is a place at school where we would buy sweets, crisps and soft drinks. In Japan, it is where Pachinko players claim their prizes. You must take the card to the tuck shop – but first you must find it! The Pachinko Bar must not tell you. One of the other patrons might, but you are best off following somebody else who has won.