Mahjong was brought to Japan in 1924 and became the number one table game in 2010. Even though there are just under 9,000 Mahjong parlors in the country, it’s not part of the list of government-sanctioned games that allow for real money gambling. So it’s not uncommon for a Mahjong group to rent a table in a parlor for their social game.
Guide to Japan Gambling Laws and Regulations
Most forms of gambling have been illegal in Japan for many years. Pachinko, lottery tickets, and some types of sports betting were the only options.
In the late 2010s, many politicians saw the value of allowing some forms of legalized gambling. As a result, they have passed new Japanese gambling legislation to legalize resort-style casinos.
We will explain everything you need to know about Japan gambling laws on this page. So keep reading to find out about the new casino bill, sports betting options, and the Japanese lottery.
Contents of Our Japan Gambling Laws Guide
Online Gambling Laws in Japan
We’re going to start with exploring the online gambling laws in Japan.
For most players, the most critical question is this – is gambling online legal in Japan? The simple answer is yes.
However, you may notice that many of the websites you can access are based in other countries.
That is because Japan’s online gambling laws focus on Japanese companies instead of individual players. Local corporations aren’t allowed to operate online casinos or betting sites in Japan.
Many of the gambling operators based in other countries accept Japanese gamblers. But which site should you join? In our opinion, the sites listed below are the best gambling sites in Japan.
Those are our top-rated casinos for Japan, but we understand that they won’t work for everyone. So, you can find more quality online gambling sites by clicking on either of the links below.
Exceptions to the Rule
There are two exceptions to the rule about local corporations operating online gambling websites in Japan.
They are both state-sponsored corporations. This means they give a portion of their profits to the government.
Japanese Racing Association
The first exception is the state-sponsored sports betting website from the Japanese Racing Association (JRA). Race betting is limited to pari-mutuel wagering, which is why other Japan gambling laws don’t apply.
JRA instituted telephone betting in 1974. They have since updated their system to accept bets over the internet. However, you must be a member to bet on JRA races online or from your mobile phone.
Once you have subscribed, you can process your bets online and connect them to your bank account to make the process easier.
Another way you can legally gamble online in Japan is to purchase lottery tickets. The Internal Affairs Ministry authorized online lottery sales in October 2018 to help increase lottery revenue.
Japanese lotteries are operated by local governments. That makes it more complicated because there are several different corporations that sell lottery tickets.
Thanks to the initiative from the Internal Affairs Ministry, all of them can sell lottery tickets online, including Nenmatsu Takarakuji tickets for the Year-End Jumbo Lottery. Nenmatsu is the largest lottery game in Asia.
So, if you want to buy a lottery ticket online in Japan, you will need to access the website operated by the city government nearest you.
Japanese Casino Legislation
Casinos have been illegal in Japan for more than a century, but a law passed in 2018 will change that.
The process of getting that law passed took more than five years. Unfortunately, it looks like the process of licensing casino corporations and actually opening them will take almost as long.
Here is an overview of Japan’s new casino legislation and some information about why it is taking so long to implement it.
The Integrated Resort Development Act (2016)
In December of 2016, Japan passed the Integrated Resort Development Act. It defines integrated resorts as complex tourist facilities that includes a casino, convention facilities, recreation activities, and hotel accommodations.
These resorts are designed to promote tourism and support regional economies.
This law was a precursor to the law that actually legalized casinos in Japan. It set up a timeline that required the government to do certain things to prepare for the creation of integrated resorts.
According to the Integrated Resort Development Act, the following had to happen by January 2020.
- The government would establish a Casino Management Committee
- The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT) would establish a policy on developing integrated resorts.
- Designated cities interested in developing integrated resorts must create an implementation policy to be submitted to the MLIT. That policy must include an application for a specific company that would operate the casino facilities.
Since the bill passed in 2016, the government has created a Casino Management Committee, and the MLIT has instituted casino and resort policies.
The coronavirus pandemic stalled much of the process. So, as of 2021, the MLIT is still in the process of reviewing applications for integrated resort facilities.
Many of the policies and details that will govern those facilities were included in the next bill, the Integrated Resort Implementation Law.
The Integrated Resort Implementation Law (2018)
The next piece of Japanese gambling legislation is the Integrated Resort Implementation Law. This law passed in 2018.
This law is much more detailed about the rules and regulations that integrated resorts and casinos in Japan must follow.
It had to be detailed because many Japanese citizens are still concerned about the possibility of widespread casino gambling.
Here are a few examples of the most common concerns and how this bill addresses them.
- Access to casinos will increase gambling addiction.
- Yakuza (Japanese organized crime members) should not be allowed to operate casinos.
- Foreign investors will not take Japanese culture and perspectives into account.
- Citizens can visit casinos only three times per week or ten times per month. They will also have to pay 6,000 yen as an entrance fee.
- The IR Implementation Law includes strict business practices that will prevent criminal syndicates from getting a casino license.
- Foreign casino companies can apply for a casino license, but their application must include details about how they will incorporate regional characteristics in their business plan.
Now that all these concerns have been addressed through various policies, the Japanese government has started accepting applications for integrated resorts in three cities – Tokyo, Osaka, and Yokohama.
Osaka began accepting proposals for casino operators in 2019. Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, MGM International, Melco Resorts, and Genting Singapore all expressed interest.
MGM was the only company to submit an official proposal, so they won the contract by default. However, Melco Resorts and Wynn Resorts are pursuing licenses in Toyko and Yokohama instead.
Las Vegas Sands initially expressed interest in operating a casino in any of the three Japanese cities. But they have since withdrawn their bid because of the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the financial outlook.
Casino operators and resort owners must have their entire proposal approved before breaking ground on the new resort facilities.
In the best-case scenario, casinos will get final approval by the end of 2021 or early 2022. That means that the earliest timeline for a new Japanese casino would be opening around 2025 or 2026.
Japan Sports Betting Laws
While gamblers are waiting for the new casinos to open, they can still enjoy sports betting in Japan.
The gambling laws in Japan make an exception for betting on momentary entertainment. This exception makes sports betting on public sporting events legal, as long as it is pari-mutuel wagering.
There are four types of public racing events that you can bet on in Japan.
- Horse Racing
- Bicycle Racing
- Powerboat Racing
- Speedway Motorcycle Racing
Most of these events are overseen by the Japanese Racing Association. It is the most prominent racing operator in the country. You can also bet on sporting events that local government organizations operate.
It is also possible to bet on soccer matches through Toto booths. There are approximately 6,000 official Toto kiosks in gas stations, convenience stores, and other prominent locations.
One of the benefits of Japan’s sports betting laws is that citizens do not have to pay taxes on any gambling winnings.
That is because the government automatically takes a portion of every wager. There is a rake of approximately 10-20% on all legal sports bets in Japan.
Other Land-based Gambling Laws in Japan
In addition to casinos and sports betting options, there are a few other forms of legal gambling in Japan. Pachinko games and lottery tickets are the most prominent.
Before we explain the details of those two forms of gambling, we want to take a closer look at the law that dictates Japan’s gambling regulation.
In 1907, Japan adopted the Criminal Code of Japan. Chapter 23 (page 39/55) of that document is titled Crimes Related to Gambling and Lotteries. It is a short chapter with very little information or definitions.
Here are the different punishments that it describes for people who gamble.
Illegal Gambling in Japan – Punishments
- Any person who gambles can be punished with a fine of up to 500,000 yen or a petty fine.
- If a person gambles habitually, they can be imprisoned for up to three years.
- People who operate gambling businesses for profit or organize gambling events can be imprisoned for up to five years.
There are a few other punishments that are related to illegal lottery sales. We will go over these in the lottery section of this page.
Chapter 23 of the Criminal Code is straightforward about the consequences of illegal gambling. But it does not make any efforts to define what illegal gambling is and is not.
For example, Article 185 has an exception for “a person who bets a thing which is provided for momentary entertainment.”
That simple statement is the basis for Japan’s sports betting laws. But there are plenty of other activities that this statement could cover.
For example, social gambling activities or skill games could also be considered momentary entertainment. These other activities are not explicitly regulated, but they could violate other Japan gambling laws.
Specifically, the Consumer Affairs Agency can ban certain activities because they violate the Act Against Unjustifiable Premiums and Misleading Representations.
Pachinko is the only exception.
Pachinko is one game of chance that is particularly popular in Japan. As a result, there are dozens of pachinko parlors with hundreds of machines.
Before the Integrated Resort Implementation Law passed, these pachinko parlors were the only legal gambling halls in Japan.
One reason that pachinko is so prevalent is that it is one of the only games of chance that you can play without running into issues with Japan’s casino laws.
Playing pachinko is similar to playing a pinball machine. First, you press a button to release a ball. Then the ball bounces around the machine and eventually lands in one of the pockets.
Modern pachinko machines are similar to slot machines because they cover a variety of themes. For example, you can play pachinko based on the movie Jaws or the Star Wars franchise.
You will earn a non-cash prize that depends on which pocket the ball lands in. Small prizes are usually another ball you can use to keep playing the game, but you can earn other prizes if you win the jackpot.
All the pachinko prizes must be some type of merchandise to avoid being prohibited by Japanese gambling regulation.
Many pachinko parlors offer tokens or plastic-covered gold cards as the main prizes. Players can take these cards or tokens to a nearby shop or convenience store, where they can be “sold” for cash.
Players are not allowed to receive cash for pachinko prizes while they are still in the pachinko parlor. But it is easy to get around that rule by offering cash trade-ins next door.
Most of the time, the company that operates the pachinko parlor also operates the convenience store where you can exchange your prizes. They simply have to have separate storefronts to follow Japan gambling law.
Pachinko has been one of Japan’s most popular forms of gaming for the past century because it was the closest thing to casino games that citizens had access to.
Once Japan opens integrated resort casinos, pachinko parlors will most likely face a decline. The parlor owners will have to find another way to attract players once they have access to real slot machines.
Playing the Lottery
Another exception in Japan gambling legislation is state-operated lottery sales. Lottery games are quite popular in Japan, partially because players do not have to pay taxes on their winnings.
Takarakuji is the Japanese word for the lottery. Japanese citizens can purchase Takarakuji tickets at specific Takarakuji booths or ATMs.
Online lottery sales are also a legal form of online gambling in Japan. Unfortunately, you must be a Japanese citizen to claim a Takarakuji prize.
There are three types of lottery tickets that you can buy in Japan. They include unique number lotteries, selected number lotteries, and scratch cards.
Types of Lottery Tickets in Japan
- Scratch cards are the same in Japan as they are in the United States. They have been available since 1984 and typically sell for 200 yen.
- Numbers 3 and Numbers 4 are the unique number lotteries in Japan. They are draw games with daily drawings. Players can win for guessing between two to four numbers correctly, but you can earn higher prizes if you guess the numbers in the correct order.
- Selected number lotteries, such as Lotto 6, Lotto 7, and Jumbo Lottery, offer the highest prizes. You can earn more than 1 billion yen by guessing all the numbers that will be drawn. Some of these games occur twice weekly, while the Jumbo Lottery only happens quarterly.
Most lottery tickets are sold for between 100-500 yen. However, the exact price varies from one game to the next.
Japan gambling laws dictate that the overall prize pool cannot be more than 50% of the revenue generated from lottery sales. So, the lottery revenue is typically divided.
These percentages are approximate, but here is an overview of how lottery revenue gets divided in Japan.
- 45% to the player prize pool
- 40% to the local government
- 12% to operational expenses and staff
- 1-3% to special welfare organizations
The government is motivated to enforce lottery rules because they need the money that comes from that 40% of revenue.
Therefore, any unauthorized person who sells a lottery ticket can be imprisoned for up to two years or forced to pay a fine of up to 1,500,000 yen.
If they have an accomplice who acts as an intermediary, the accomplice can also face up to one year in prison or a fine of one million yen.
The Japanese Lottery sales generated at least 800 billion yen worth of ticket revenue each year between 1997 and 2017. Lottery revenue peaked in 2005, with more than 1 trillion yen sold.
The lottery began noticing a decline in revenue between 2016 and 2017. That is why the Internal Affairs Ministry approved online lottery sales in Japan the following year.
Lottery revenue may decline further once the new Japan casino laws come into effect.
Illegal Gambling Operations in Japan
Many people want to know if gambling is legal in Japan. As we have discussed, there are several legal forms of gambling. That includes sports betting, lotteries, and pachinko.
Yakuza is an organized crime syndicate in Japan. It is similar to the Italian mafia, but the Yakuza actually has roots in the Edo period of feudal Japan.
When the citizens were divided by class, the lowest classes of people were thieves (tekiya) and gamblers (bakuto). Because these people were outcasts, they eventually banded together to form the Yakuza.
Yakuza Hierarchy and Activities
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Yakuza had become a modern organized crime system. There are more than 103,000 active members of the Yakuza, and they are known for having full-body tattoos.
They have a complex hierarchy. For example, the Yamaguchi-gumi family is the largest family in the Yakuza, but the Sumiyoshi-kai family is also prominent.
The Yakuza participate in several illegal activities, including loan sharking and operating illegal gambling halls. They also act as bookmakers to facilitate illegal sports betting.
If you end up owing a debt to one of the Yakuza gambling halls, they will use any means necessary to get their money. Some pachinko parlors hire Yakuza members to go after players who accumulate debts.
You do not want to find yourself mixed up with the Yakuza, but that can be difficult because they influence so many aspects of gambling in Japan.
Where Can I Gamble in Japan?
Although there aren’t any casinos in Japan, at least not at present, there are numerous betting outlets scattered throughout the country.
There are 12,000 Pachinko parlors, and many of them are located right outside the train stations. The payments will be made to winners via tokens that need to be cashed in away from the premises.
Customers can buy lottery tickets from the various convenience and department stores, and many sales outlets are also positioned near train stations. Some ATMs also allow for lottery ticket sales.
For all of the public races like the boat race, bicycle, and motorcycle, there are different tracks, as well as ticket outlets in the major cities. J-League Soccer Pools (Football Toto) are also purchased through dedicated booths in some obscure locations like electronic stores or car lots.
Off Track Betting is offered for both Japan Racing Association events, as well as the non-JRA tracks. The following are the ten JRA race courses:
History of Japan Gambling Laws
Summary of Japan Gambling Regulations and Laws
Japan is not generally considered to be the most gambling-friendly country. Pachinko, lottery games, and sports betting were the only legal options for most of the last century.
Fortunately, that is changing because of the Integrated Resort Implementation Law.
It is taking a long time for the country to figure out all the new Japanese gambling regulations that will govern the new casino resorts.
Those land-based casinos will significantly impact the Japanese gambling industry, both online and in person.
For example, once the government and citizens see that regulated casinos can generate revenue without causing increased gambling addictions, you will likely see Japan create online casino laws.
You don’t have to wait for Japan to pass these laws, though. You can enjoy online gambling in Japan at one of our recommended casino sites today!
Japan Gambling Regulation FAQ
- How does Mahjong factor into the Japanese gambling climate?
- Do the non-JRA racecourses provide legal betting opportunities?
Yes. Even though they’re not part of the Japan Racing Association, they are run by the local governments on a smaller scale, and they do offer betting, including OTB and telephone wagers. The tracks are not known to be even close to the quality of the JRA tracks, though.
- What is the most popular game of chance in Japan?
Pachinko is, by far, the favorite of Japanese bettors. Whereas the lottery provides 845 billion JPY to the GDP, Pachinko accounts for 4% of the entire GDP. Its annual contribution exceeds 4 trillion JPY. There are more than 12,000 Pachinko parlors throughout the country.
- How many casinos are in Japan?
There are no casinos in Japan. However, it looks as if they will build some in the future. The earliest we expect to see casinos in Japan is around 2025-26.
There are more than two dozen other gambling facilities in Japan to tide you over until then. You can also gamble online at one of our recommended casinos.
- Can you play poker in Japan?
There are no casinos in Japan, so it’s unlikely that you’ll find a poker room. Maybe that will change when the country opens their first casino. Only time will tell.
As for other forms of live poker, opinions are mixed. It does sound like you can play poker, but only if you’re not staking real money.