Japan is widely considered throughout the gaming industry to be one of the next great gambling frontiers. However, there is some friction around this topic for residents, as casino games have traditionally been associated with the organized crime group called “the Yakuza.” Still, in recent years, Japanese lawmakers have relaxed restrictions, even allowing for some legal casinos in designated tourist destinations.
Some betting activities have long been exempted from the anti-gambling laws due to historical or cultural reasons. Pastimes like pachinko – a kind of combination slot and pinball game – and wagering on public races (horse, bicycle, powerboat, and motorcycle) have existed for years outside the Criminal Code.
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The purpose of this guide is to help readers understand the rules and restrictions governing gambling – particularly online – in Japan, in addition to touching on the nation’s history with gaming, detailing relevant legislation, and sharing the top gambling sites in Japan.
The Japanese gambling sites listed above have been reviewed and ranked by our dedicated team of online gaming experts and found to be the best. In the following sections, we’ll highlight the qualities our team looks for in a website and what they must possess before becoming a recommendation. Then we’ll focus on what makes Japan’s gambling culture unique.
Why Are These Sites Recommended?
Before a gambling site finds its way onto our list of recommendations, there’s a lengthy review process to make sure they possess the qualities our readership demands. LegitGamblingSites.com employs an entire team of reviewers, each of whom has extensive experience in the gaming industry. When they vet a Japanese gambling site, here are a few of the many attributes the team verifies.
Bonuses and Loyalty Rewards Program
These days, many of the entry-level bonuses can be worth thousands of dollars, with some gambling websites agreeing to match 100% of the player’s initial deposit. Then, you have the loyalty rewards programs, which keep the prizes coming, for merely continuing to play – which most of us would probably be doing regardless.
We frequently see customers receive gifts of cashback, site merchandise, gift cards, hotel rooms, and more.
History, Reliability, and Safety
We thoroughly research each recommended site’s background, including ownership groups and their reputations with former account holders. We ensure they haven’t spent time on industry-wide blacklists or engaged in any unethical behaviors that could potentially happen again.
Variety of Games and Types of Bets
When it comes to internet-based casinos, we look for operators with tons of slot and video poker themes, bet denominations, and jackpots – both progressive and fixed. The same goes for traditional table games such as blackjack, roulette, and craps. Highly ranked online casinos often offer computerized and live dealer options.
Sportsbooks should provide a wide range of events and sports leagues to bet on, as well as numerous choices for wagers within each contest. For example, one baseball game could offer run line, moneyline, and totals bets, plus different proposition wagers, parlays, and more.
Winner Friendly and Fast Payouts
We also see websites purposely delaying withdrawals either by failing to respond to requests or through unreasonably low payout limits. This is done in hopes that the customer will grow bored and gamble away their winnings before the money is transferred. We only want to recommend Japan’s gambling sites that treat winners fairly.
Is Gambling Legal in Japan?
Technically, gambling in Japan is made illegal by Chapter 23 of the country’s Criminal Code, but there are numerous exceptions to those rules. The legal status depends on the specific game or activity, but things have been trending towards more legalized gambling opportunities, not less. In 2016, the Japanese Prime Minister pushed for the opening of several regulated casinos in destination areas, aimed mostly at attracting foreign tourists.
Lotteries are commonplace throughout Japan and are usually held at the prefecture level.
There are three different kinds available: scratch cards, unique number, and selected number lottos. These can be bought at special ticket booths and stores, as well as at some ATMs.
Pachinko is an immensely popular slot-like game that’s available in parlors all over the country. The game utilizes metal balls similar to what you’d find in pinball to activate various slot games and bonus rounds that win tokens or extra balls. The earnings can then be exchanged for different prizes.
The way they get around gambling laws is by placing a store next door to the pachinko shop, almost always owned by the same person. Players can take the prizes they just won, bring them to the shop, and sell them for cash. This extra step makes the entire practice legal.
There are two sets of rules for race and sports betting in Japan. The domestic operators may not offer their services online. Locally, the only legal ways to buy action on sporting events is to wager on soccer or on horse, powerboat, bike, and motorcycle racing, which are all available for pari-mutuel gambling.
There are, however, online Japanese gambling sites which are permitted to offer services to the country. Bet365 is one internet gaming provider that has a deal with the government to operate in Japan.
Casinos are a controversial subject in Japan. They are widely associated with the Yakuza, an organized crime organization that has run illegal betting locations throughout the country for decades. In 2016, the Japanese Diet (their parliament) voted to allow a few select casinos in high-tourist regions, despite significant opposition.
The locations are all situated in family-friendly areas with lots of foreign traffic and meant as a way to raise funds for the government. While visitors from outside of Japan are allowed access to these establishments as often as they please, local computerized identification will be used to ensure no Japanese citizens enter these locations more than three times per week.
How Does Japan Regulate Gambling?
Only specific gambling activities are legal in Japan. Most of the regulations come in the form of prohibition unless specific exceptions are made. Even well-entrenched games such as pachinko, which is legal, requires residents to take a few extra steps to get around laws banning gambling on the slot-like machines for money.
In this section, we’ll look at the fully-legal forms of gambling, the laws that govern them, and the regulatory authorities who oversee the industry in Japan. But first, we need to discuss online gaming.
The Japanese Penal Code does not explicitly regulate online gambling, nor does it define it in any way that would separate internet and land-based betting legally. This means that any Japanese gambling sites available will need to be hosted offshore, which is currently the case.
Japan’s government allows some offshore operators to provide their services within the country, while others are considered illegal. If they offer their bets in “Yen,” it’s likely they’ve been approved.
Even the unapproved websites are generally safe for individual bettors, as it’s difficult for the authorities to monitor, but people have been arrested and charged with “gambling” for playing at illegal Japanese gambling sites before – as was the case in 2016. But they’ve traditionally gone after only the biggest breaches, with large sums of money changing hands and internet café operators who were offering their own services.
In some cases, the local internet service providers will block offshore gambling sites in Japan altogether. Transactions between Japanese citizens and gaming operators have also been prevented by banking institutions in the past.
Law(s): The Act on Carrying Out, etc. Sports Promotion Vote (Act No. 63 of 1998)
Regulatory Body: Japan Sports Council (operator), under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
Toto is technically classified as a kind of soccer lottery, but it allows residents to wager on the results of Japanese league matches.
Law(s): Horse Racing Act (Act No. 158 of 1948)
Regulatory Body: National races fall under the Japan Racing Association, while smaller, local events are supervised by the municipality. Both fall under the umbrella of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries
Horse racing is one of several forms of gambling in Japan, operated by local public bodies and overseen by various government institutions. These events can be bet at the track, land-based off-track shops, and Japanese online gambling sites.
Law(s): Motorboat Racing Act (Act No. 242 of 1951)
Regulatory Body: The Foundation of Japan Motor Boat Racing Association, under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism
Boat racing is another of the “public sports” that can be wagered on at various locations throughout the country. Players engage in pari-mutuel betting, with the winners taking home roughly 75% of the prize pool, and the rest going to local municipalities.
Law(s): Bicycle Racing Act (Act No. 209 of 1948)
Regulatory Body: The JKA Foundation, under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry
Bicycle and motorcycle races are also “public sports” which makes them available for betting both online and at land-based ticket booths and closed-circuit off-track gambling shops. There are 47 cities or prefectures allowed to host these events.
Law(s): Auto Racing Act (Act No. 208 of 1950)
Regulatory Body: The JKA Foundation, under the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry
Bicycle and motorcycle races are also “public sports,” which makes them available for betting both online and at land-based ticket booths and closed-circuit off-track gambling shops. There are 47 cities or prefectures allowed to host these events.
Law(s): Act for the Promotion of Development of Integrated Resorts
Regulatory Body: Casino Control Committee
Casinos were only legalized recently and just in particular situations and locations. The expectation is that it will be 2022 before they’ve been built in the designated resort areas and are operational. Anybody who wishes to operate such an establishment must go through a licensing process with the Casino Control Committee.
Online casino games are not legal in Japan. The laws state that any casino gambling must take place within an “integrated resort,” and since bettors playing online will be located elsewhere, playing over the internet is unlawful.
Law(s): Act on Control and Improvement of Amusement Business, etc. (Act No. 122 of 1948)
Regulatory Body: Local public safety commissions
Pachinko machines are classified as entertainment or amusement devices rather than gambling, and they’re legal and widely available. These hybrid slot-pinball machines are regulated by local safety commissions within the cities where they’re located. Since this activity is not considered gambling, players are paid out in tickets or coins, which can be exchanged for various goods.
It’s understood that these goods may then be sold, usually at an establishment located directly next door, for cash. The authorities have shown no issues with the current arrangement, despite essentially being gambling for monetary rewards, with just a single inconvenient step added.
Law(s): The Lottery Ticket Act
Regulatory Body: Local prefectures, all of which are under the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Lotteries are extremely popular throughout Japan, with some variations available for purchasing through ATMs. There are 47 prefectures approved to sell lottery tickets in the country.
History of Gambling in Japan
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if I’m caught using an offshore gambling site in Japan?
Some offshore gambling sites are permitted to offer their services to residents of Japan. They take bets on the various public races and other legalized forms of gambling.
If you access offshore operators providing casino games, poker, and sports wagers that aren’t approved in the country, you run the risk of being fined or jailed. Most independent gamblers don’t have much to worry about, but Japanese authorities have made arrests before, for this very reason.
Does Japan tax winnings from gambling?
Winnings made through lotteries are tax-exempt under the Lottery Ticket Act. Otherwise, the bulk of the tax expenses fall on the establishments and operators. Residents in Japan can expect to pay income tax on their gambling earnings.
Who licenses the regulated and legal online gambling sites in Japan?
In most cases, the few forms of gaming that are legal in Japan are licensed and regulated at the local level. Various federal ministries then oversee all of the municipalities, deciding which are allowed to hold races and events.