Casino bill stalls as Japanese turn to their smartphones


It looks increasingly likely that Japan will hold fire on passing a bill to legalise casinos, even as the country’s gamblers increasingly enjoy state of the art smartphone opportunities to play online.


A series of political scandals have derailed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to pass a bill designed to enable the construction of multi-million dollar hotel and casino complexes in time for the 2020 Olympics. Indeed, Abe’s stint in government is now being called into question amidst rumours that he may be forced to call an early election.

But whilst that political backdrop is bad news for Japan’s ever-eager gamers it seems that online gambling in the territory is being increasingly accepted. With Japan one of the most connected populations on earth it is no surprise to see that the Japanese are amongst the most avid gamers. In fact, it has been estimated that Japan accounts for as much as a third of all gaming revenues worldwide.

A growing part of that equation is the cash gaming opportunities provided by sites like which deliver some of the most highly evolved cash gaming opportunities. Increasingly in this internationalised arena, games are being targeted directly at the Japanese market. There are currently only a handful of sites that use the Japanese language, and even fewer that allow players to place their bets in yen.

What is equally impressive in 32Red’s commitment to winning over Japanese gamers is their provision of virtual pachinko games. Pachinko is a uniquely Japanese hybridization of pinball and slot machines. It is fair to say that the investment made by 32Red in relation to the game is unlikely to transfer to other markets!

The success already enjoyed by online providers in Japan points to an appetite for cash games there which is denied them in bricks and mortar terms. The extent of the industry is not known precisely but it was estimated at $1.23 billion as long ago as 2008. It is widely accepted to be several times that figure now.

Expansion in the Japanese market is largely in line with – and a significant contributor towards – the rise in online cash gaming worldwide. The global market for online gambling is anticipated to exceed $41 billion next year. Within that equation the Japanese market has been assessed as only being less lucrative than those of the US and China.

It was in on the basis of this popular appetite that Shinzo Abe felt that the time was right to bring casino gambling into the mainstream. Aware of the need to boost tax revenues and the opportunity cash in on the tourist boom anticipated from the 2020 Olympics Abe had presented his plans as part of an economic regeneration package. It now seems that those plans are going to be put on hold indefinitely. In the meantime Japanese gamers look set to continue enjoying the 24/7 benefits that playing remotely provides.

In many ways what is happening represents a glimpse into a future where leisure and media are offered to the public via their smartphones as and when and wherever suits them. The ties to bricks, mortar and specific locales for activity are being loosened to the point where the very idea that physical casinos might be viable is called into question.

With the Japanese increasingly accustomed to getting their kicks via their smartphones it may be just as well that Abe’s plans have been put on hold. It may not be long before physical casinos are seen as nothing more than a historical oddity or a holiday novelty.

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