Nearly 5% of Japanese addicted to gambling – even though it’s still 'illegal'

By Audrey Akcasu

What do loud noises, small shiny balls, and bright lights have in common? Pachinko parlors. Pachinko, which can be described as a cross between pinball and slot machines, is a favorite pastime in Japan, despite gambling being illegal (because it’s not technically gambling). The players, who often spend hours sitting in front of these noisy, bright machines, win shiny steel balls, not money, so it’s not gambling, right? Right.

Enter loophole: They can take their baskets of balls to a neighboring, but “separate,” establishment to exchange the balls for cash prizes. How convenient!

Pachinko parlors are often huge, gaudy buildings, common even to countryside towns. If you pass one early in the morning, there will often be a line of people rounding the corner, waiting for the doors to open. Many people, especially men, love pachinko. Some members of the government, however, are starting to believe that their citizens love it a little too much.

This past summer, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare conducted research on the number of citizens addicted to gambling, including boat and horse racing, pachinko, slots and even mahjong. The study found that over 5.36 million people are addicted to gambling (4.3 million men, and just under 1 million women) — that’s almost 5% of the population (and almost 9% of all men). Further, they discovered that within this group, eighty percent of them are addicted to pachinko and slots, specifically.

Now, some people may find it hard to believe that you could get addicted to what is essentially pinball without the levers, but it’s a real problem. It was such a problem in Korea that the government effectively banned it, leading many addicts to travel to Japan to get their fix.

In Fukushima Prefecture, locals claim the nuclear disaster refugee community is found more in pachinko parlors than looking for sustainable work. People get so addicted that they throw away all of their money at the pachinko establishments, which sometimes leads to financial problems and broken families.

In the wake of the announcement of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan to lift the gambling ban to allow the opening of casinos in Japan, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is pushing for gambling addiction counter-measures, including guidelines for pachinko parlor workers to recognize and report addicted customers, starting a hotline for addicts and their families to seek help and possibly even redesigning machines to curb addictive behavior.

Dr Masayuki Oishi, owner of a gambling rehabilitation center in Yokohama, says that efforts should be focused on the most vulnerable people — the unemployed, single parents and people with financial troubles — to warn them of the “evils of gambling.”

Abe’s government is in a tricky spot. Is the call to save Japan’s gambling addicts stronger than the potential monetary boost from legalizing gambling (which could, in turn, potentially create more addicts nationwide)?

With recent economic figures showing recession, resignations of cabinet members and Abe calling a snap election, who knows what the future will hold for the policies dealing with Japan’s gambling addicts.

Sources: My Game News Flash, Yahoo! News

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Asahi Newspaper Worker Helps His Company by Punching Out Pachinko Machine -- Fukushima Refugees Rather Gamble than Work, Claims Iwaki City Mayor -- It’s all about the money: The best (and worst) paid student jobs in Japan

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I have played pachinko. One time.

Find it incredulous that anybody can be addicted to this most boring of boring pasttimes... Then again, I don't find the charm in smoking 2 packs a day and ingesting a few super sweet canned coffees either.

3 ( +10 / -7 )

Police believe organized crime is heavily involved in the industry, either running parlors or extorting protection money. Players get a sense of individuality and solitude - just player and machine - in a heavily populated country while they are still part of a large group - the rest of the pachinko players. Even though pachinko, which is regulated by the National Police Agency, is strictly for recreation, people do play for money.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

5% addicted think that's a bit low. As anyone who lives in Japan knows gambling is illegal but as usual their are loop holes and a blind eye from authorities. Actually sums up Japan!

4 ( +9 / -5 )

To me personally, playing pachinko is the same as watching a dryer dry clothes. Not very exciting.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Horse racing is legal.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

And boat racing, which people gamble on.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I would put the number higher. Plenty of gambling opportunities in Japan - horse, boats, bicycles, lotto etc. and once casinos come even more. Plus there is online gambling. go to any casino is Macau or Singapore and you hear plenty of Japanese being spoken.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

This number has to be low, but then I be the powers that be would say only about 5% of Japanese are alcoholics!

Yes its mind numbingly boring, colossal waste of time, also hear ex cops often find jobs at them(h'mmmm wonder whyyyyy!!???)

4 ( +7 / -3 )

Maybe we need an input from a different perspective... I have played both pachinko and slot machines in here for a couple of years, mostly while on "tenkin", they are very very addicting. The rush of hitting a jackpot (bonus) is great. I play texas holdem and baccarat whenever overseas, so some of my trips are decided by how good the casinos in the area are. So I can attest, pachinko is a great way to waste away one's paycheck even compared with a card game.

It is really easy to make little of something we don't do, like smoking, since I don't, I tend to not be very tolerant with people who do smoke. By the numbers above alone is a great hint on how one would be wrong to dismiss this problem of gambling by just saying "I can not imagine someone sitting there for a day playing with those little balls. It is loud and smokey..." The truth is it is a lot of fun and very powerful addiction.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

5%? No way, it's much higher.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

They can take their baskets of balls to a neighboring, but “separate,” establishment to exchange the balls for cash prizes. How convenient!

Evidently this writer has never been to a pachinko parlor. If someone is going to write an article making claims like this one here it would behoove the writer to get their facts in order before publishing.

A person can not take "their baskets of balls" to e neighboring but "separate" establishment. They exchange the balls on the spot, in the pachinko parlor itself, for either some useless tokens that are THEN taken to a different location in exchange for cash OR they can and many do as well, exchange those balls on the premises for items that are on display.

Everything from beer to watches and a bunch of other stuff in between.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

another addidction is Lottery I guess, "Japan Jumbo Draw" and Lotto

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

I just want to add some more ACTUAL facts to this. 5% is the single HIGHEST in the world! On contrast in the USA it is around 1% of the population. 2 to 3% is considered terrible. 5% is the highest tin the world. Epidemic level bad. Think about this for just two moment. A country that doesnt even have legal gambing, yet has the highest gambling rate in the world. How are people not screaming for revolution of this culture of this society of this country? I am just a visitor. My friends and I, and all of you here on JapanToday, we see what needs to be changes with Japan... yet they all sit idly by. The one protest Japan even had in the last 30 years was to stop nuclear power.... which should be coming back on-line in the next year or two. Oh well. I guess its back to the booze and pachinko.

4 ( +7 / -3 )

What do loud noises, small shiny balls, and bright lights have in common?

The lead sentence had me thinking this was an article about Christmas. Or Julien Blanc.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I also went to a pachinko place once, not long after arriving here. I spent Y100 and won Y3000, which was promptly invested in beer. I'm not tempted to go back.

As for it not being gambling: if there is a possibility to receive back more than you spend, then it's gambling. Using a cash substitute (pachinko balls) doesn't change that. If I set up a casino using chips to represent cash I will be closed down straight away. Why is pachinko treated differently?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

They can take their baskets of balls to a neighboring, but “separate,” establishment to exchange the balls for cash prizes.

Actually, that is not what the loophole is. The loophole is that they get prizes for the balls at the Pachinko hall and they take the prizes and sell them for cash at a neighboring, but separate establishment.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The loophole is that they get prizes

However it's only the folks that post here that ever actually refer to the exchanged goods as "prizes". Those trinkets typically come with 100 yen, 500 yen, and 1000 yen "values" attached. There is NO law stating that the "winner" has to exchange for these trinkets for the cash, they can get merchandise right in the parlor as well.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Unfortunately some people seem to be predisposed to addictions but we don't know exactly how much of the problem is genetic verses environmental which could involve a person's upbringing, social influences or immediate surroundings in the case of gambling. However what we know is that addiction leads to misery. It starts out as a solution to a problem and then as the addiction continues, it develops more problems which cause misery.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Mahjong is another type of gambling mentioned with a naughty grin by some of my coworkers. Some of my older coworkers like to drop in on parlours where the stakes can be quite eye-opening. Legal? It doesn't seem to concern the police.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

^^^^^ Yubaru knows the deal. ;-) And how many parlours are funnelling coin to NK's Dear Leader?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

to warn them of the 'evils of gambling.'

Yeah, that will work as a counter measure. Just like it does with surgeon general's warnings on cigs. Riiiiight.

People with addictive behaviors know the dangers. It doesn't stop them. If Japan seriously wants to help people, then the only way is to go the Korean route and just ban gambling -- or at least Pachi/Slot -- outright.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The only reason that pachinko has been able to use the loopholes in the law is because the law is coveniently looking the other way. Amakudari cushy jobs afer retirement for policemen is well known. Pachinko groups usually have their "administrative and management work "" conducted in a nice businesslike unidentified building and this is where former policemen, usually those above section chiefs, can sit and chat and come in handy when a pachinko parlor has problems. I for one have never seen a policeman in uniform come into a pachinko game hall. Young police rookies know that it's offlimits for them to hassle or scare off staff or clients inside a pachinko parlor because of the former policemen playing yojinbo (bodyguards) for this industry. Funny how Koreans who actually control the pachinko industry here were banned from their own country. Unfortunately it will never happen in Japan.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Sorry JT, but I'm afraid this is very poor reporting.

Firstly, we are not told how this 5% figure was arrived at. Without this information we cannot make any assessment of its accuracy and reliability.

Secondly, unless we are given comparative figures for other countries it is impossible to put this 5% figure into context. Is it good or bad? Who knows!

Please provide more complete information in future.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I am not surprised. Pachinko pal orcs are always full when I go past them...

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Ha! I remember when I first came to Japan and I had no idea what pachinko was. From the outside I thought it was an arcade, or a game center in Japan, and I thought, cool! Lets check it out. I'm not so into video games, but I wanted to see a Japanese arcade, maybe play a game or two, meet some people.

I went in, my ears popped like I'm breaking the sound barrier in a jet from all the noise, it was a non-smoker's nightmare, and the zombies in front of the machines freaked me out. I wasn't interested in meeting these people.

Later, the local Japanese told me all about pachinko, how they, the locals believed, it was mostly run by the mafia and that horse racing, boat racing and bicycle racing was also popular. I was an idiot when I first came to Japan and one of my fairy-tale ideals of the country was shattered. I thought they were much too smart to get sucked into gambling. Wrong.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Imo. the Numbers of addicted Women is underrepresented, in our Area the Women outnumber the Men in the Daytime.

There are easy Ways for the Government to limit the Number of addicted Citizens, even without making "a Game" illegal: just change the Laws for the Numbers of Machines, introduce a Time Limit (like 60min. Game with a periode of Breaktime like 20min.), protect the Workers inside of this Halls and forbid smoking (positive side effect)

But the Japanese Parties are imo. to "shy" to fight the organized Crime!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Who wrote this? So many mistakes, it has already been annouched they are not lifting the gambling ban and when you win at pachinko you dont take your balls anywhere you win a prize of gold and then take the gold away and sell it

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Why could not regulate the pachinko is twofold.

because Koreans living in Japan had management. Koreans had a domineering act against Japan as a nation has won the second World War. In addition, the police could not be corresponding to each embassy specific organizations to conceal the domineering behavior. 2.There is a close relationship between the Koreans and left Japan. They make an effort so as not to the regulation.

Two reasons why you can not regulate the pachinko still

pachinko parlors and the police is in a close relationship. You are building a system that get the pachinko-related work when you retired police. 2.Even now, because Koreans and leftist who has been behind the scenes.
-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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