How to Play Pachinko


When I was young, I had a friend whose parents were pretty cool. One of the things I remember about their house is that they had a pachinko game. It looked a lot like a pinball machine, only it was vertical instead of horizontal.

I didn’t really realize that pachinko was a traditional Japanese gambling machine until much later in life. Now I’ve come to understand that pachinko parlors are everywhere in Japan. They’re the local equivalent of casinos, really.

Like slot machines, pachinko games have changed through the years to adapt to new technologies. I’m 48, so my boyhood friend’s parent’s game would be comparable to an early 3-reel slot machine.

I should point out, too, that gambling for money is illegal in Japan. Pachinko winnings are paid in “pachinko balls,” which you can’t exchange for cash. In fact, the balls have engravings on them specific to the pachinko parlor where you play.

You can, however, exchange these pachinko balls for prizes or tokens. And separate businesses might be willing to buy such balls for cash.

If you’re visiting Japan and want to know how to play pachinko, this post provides an introduction.

1- The Basics of Pachinko

I already mentioned that pachinko looks like a pinball machine, but the game has significant differences. For one thing, the balls used in a pachinko machine are much smaller than the balls used in a pinball machine. Also, the balls in a pachinko machine can be removed—a pinball is stuck inside the machine.

To play pachinko, you load a ball (or multiple balls) into the game and release the handle. The spring in the handle shoots the ball into the game, where it falls through the playing field. The outcome is determined by where the ball (or balls) lands.

The playing field has multiple pins which act as randomizers for the game. The ball bounces from pin to pin before eventually landing in one of the cups at the bottom. The ball might also land inside a catcher before it gets to the bottom. That triggers a payout.

Some games have flippers (again like pinball machines) which you can use to make it more likely that the ball will land in a catcher. The difference is that these flippers aren’t controlled by the player. The machine opens and closes these flippers, making it easier or harder to land in the catcher. The trick to winning is to time the launch of the ball so that it’s more likely to land in a catcher.

Your goal is to win as many pachinko balls as you can. Like slot machines, pachinko games used to be all mechanical, but modern pachinko machines are similar to video slot machines.

And of course, it’s important to understand that you can’t play without inserting money into the pachinko machine first to get the balls into action.

2- Some More Details to Understand about Pachinko Machines and How They Work

The number of obstacles and places for the ball to land aren’t limited to just pins and cups. An assortment of other receptacles and other objects can be found in a pachinko machine, depending on its design.

You get more balls to play with sometimes if you hit certain spots inside the playing surface. This enables you to play longer, improving your probability of winning. More modern pachinko machines also have digital slot machines in the middle of the machine—these work much like traditional slot machines, with your goal being to line up 3 symbols.

Older games use a lever with a spring to launch the balls, but the more modern pachinko games use a dial of sorts. You can use that to decide how much force to use when the launcher shoots the ball into the game. These modern games usually have a gate in the middle which activates the slot machine game.

If the slot machine is spinning already, having more balls move through that gate don’t trigger more spins, by the way. Your goal is to get a jackpot, of course, but you can win smaller numbers of balls, too.

Also, the spinning reels are animated, and like American slot machine designers, pachinko designers like to program their games for maximum excitement. If the 1st 2 symbols are a match, the game will spend extra time showing animation for the 3rd reel to increase the suspense.

The Japanese even have a time for this delay—it’s called “reachi.”

While this is going on, you’re in “payout mode.” While all the animation is going on in the slot machine, a payout gate opens up at the bottom of the playing surface. You get to shoot balls into that gate for additional payouts during this mode.

A lot of the features on modern pachinko machines would have been impossible a couple of decades ago. For example, modern pachinko machines often allow you to switch from one mode of playing to another. Sometimes these modes are dramatically different from standard gameplay.

Dedicated pachinko players often recognize certain patterns or colors which signify how likely you are to win. That’s a big part of the fun for these veterans, especially when these modes are favorable.

3- What Happens After Payout Mode

You’ll encounter 2 scenarios after payout mode ends. The more common of these scenarios is when a percentage of the possible of the potential jackpots increases the size of the jackpot as a multiplier. This is called kakuhen, and the mechanism used for this is just a random number generator program. This is immediately followed by a 2nd spin of the reels.

You can wind up winning multiple large jackpots in a row this way. This is called “fever mode.”

If you don’t get a kakuhen, you will get jitan, where you get a bunch of extra spins of the reels. The gate gets bigger, so you can shoot more balls into it, too.

4- Understanding Koatari

Most modern pachinko machines include a small jackpot called koatari as part of their system. In this mode, you get less time to shoot balls into the payout gate. There’s no real way to predict the duration of this small jackpot period, either.

This enables pachinko designers to offer higher kakuhen percentages without losing profits. But it also creates the opportunity to make “battle machines.” On these pachinko machines, you get a chance to fight and defeat an enemy to win another kakuhen. If the enemy wins, you just get a normal koatari and you go into jitan mode.

Sometimes you can even go into kakuhen mode without knowing it. The designers do this so that players continue to play games that look like they’re in normal mode.

Koatari is popular with Japanese pachinko players, as they enjoy the battle games.

5- How Prizes Work in Pachinko

Instead of winning coins, like you would on a slot machine, in pachinko you win more balls. You can use those balls to keep playing, or you can exchange the balls for prizes. To “cash in” this way, you need to press a button to call the Japanese version of a slot machine attendant.

That employee uses a machine to count your balls. He records that number, then gives you a card with that number marked on it. You use that card to buy your prizes.

Pachinko parlors always have a special prize, which is made of silver or gold. You can sell it for money, but not at the pachinko parlor. Some special prizes are based on the number of balls you’ve won over time, too.

Other prizes are mundane enough. They’re the kinds of things you might win at a Dave & Busters or a Chuck E. Cheese here in the United States, although some of the prizes are more valuable than a stuffed animal. Candy bars are common lower value prizes, and bicycles are common high value prizes.

If you’ve ever played 8-liners in a game room in Texas, you’re probably familiar with how some of this works. I played at a game room near McKinney once which offered 12 cans of corn as a prize for winning on one of their games.

Some pachinko parlors offer “just-for-fun” games. These are usually older model, mechanical machines, and the setting resembles an arcade more than a casino.

6- How to Play Pachinko Online

A quick search of any major internet search engine (including Bing or Google) will help you easily find free pachinko games you can play online. These are similar to the free, play-money slot machines that are so popular with a certain segment of the population.

I’m not sure I see much point in playing such free games, although maybe the sensory experience reminds players of some fun they had playing pachinko for real in real life.

Some online casinos also offer pachinko online for real money. Most of these casinos cater to Japanese (or at least Asian) clientele, but pachinko has started becoming more popular with other populations throughout the world.

It’s possible that someday pachinko online might be as popular as slot machines online, but I wouldn’t count on it. Still, stranger things have happened.

If you decide to try pachinko online for money, look for a recommendation for where to play from an information portal like this one. Legitimate online gambling portals like this one vet their advertisers before recommending them. Some companies in the online gambling space are less reliable than others when it comes to payouts and customer service.

You can avoid a lot of headaches by getting a recommendation from a site like this one before depositing money at an online casino.

7- If You Like Pachinko, You Should Also Try Pachislo Machines (And Pinball, for that Matter)

Another gambling device that’s growing in popularity in Japan is the pachislo machine, which is basically just a small slot machine like you’d see in a United States casino. The main difference is the size of the machine.  Also, pachislo machines use tokens rather than coins. (Don’t forget about the legal status of gambling in Japan. The tokens are the workaround.)

Pachislo machines have 3 spinning reels on them, but the player presses a “stop” button to stop each reel from spinning. This category of slot machine is known in the United States as a “skill stop” slot machine. I have my doubts as to whether you can actually improve your probability of winning on such a machine through skillful play.

Pachislo machines are also big collector’s items in Japan. A Japanese pachislo or pachinko parlor is only able to use a machine for 2 years before they must retire it, so they usually sell the older machines.

Finally, if you enjoy pachinko, you probably already know about pinball machines. I don’t know of a lot of people gambling on pinball machines, although if you’re looking for some action, you could probably find someone who’s willing to gamble on the outcome of a pinball game where the 2 of you are competing.


This post about how to play pachinko might seem like it does nothing more than compare pachinko machines to slot machine games. It’s hard for an American gambling writer to ignore the huge similarities between the 2 machines. In fact, as the decades have passed, pachinko machines have begun resembling slot machines even more.

The nice thing about pachinko games is that, like slot machines, they don’t require a lot of skill or effort to play. You put your money in, and you take your chances. The balls operate at random regardless of how skilled you are.

Related games like pachislo and pinball machines might be fun, too, especially if you enjoy playing pachinko.

Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.