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JACKPOT: How gambling works in Japan

ALTHOUGH Asia is considered to be the home of many gambling games, modern legislation in some countries regarding gambling is quite strict. One of these countries is Japan where many types of gambling are strictly forbidden. However, local gamblers still know the best winning slot sites, and where to have some fun.

This article is going to tell you how the gambling business is organized in Japan and why the Japanese are considered to be one of the most gambling nations in the world despite the ban of most games.

Restrictions on gambling are laid down in the Japanese Penal Code. Under it, the organizer or participant of illegal gambling, which includes casinos, can receive a hefty fine and even imprisonment.

Allowed gambling in Japan are only some kinds of sports betting, lotteries and slot machines patinko. Each of these activities has its own unique characteristics that are worth knowing for gamblers planning to try their luck in this country.

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Betting on races

One of the legal gambling activities in Japan is betting on various races, the so-called ‘public sport’. These include:

  • keiba – horse racing;
  • keirin – bicycle racing;
  • kyotei – boat racing;
  • speedway – car and motorbike racing.

Horse racing or keiba is one of the most popular sports that Japanese gamblers like to bet on. There are more than 25 racecourses where the Japan Racing Association and local government regularly hold events. Major events draw thousands of spectators.

Japanese keirin bicycle races 

Cycling or keirin in Japan is considered a rather dangerous and challenging sport. This is because of the special rules of the sport.

The races take place on 1.5 kilometre long oval tracks. Nine competitors take part and race several laps on their bikes behind a ‘guide’ on a motorbike. With each lap he builds up his speed, and before the finish line he steps off the course. The cyclists may reach speeds of 70 to 80 kilometres per hour in the final laps.

Another sport on which the Japanese bet on is kyotei or boat racing. Throughout the country there are more than 20 specialised venues for boat racing. These are artificially created lakes, with one lap being 600 metres long. The kyotei race involves 6 players in motorboats competing for supremacy at extreme speeds.

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Speedway car and motorbike races are also hugely popular in Japan. Speedway races are also held on specialised courses similar to cycle tracks where up to 12 races can be completed in a day.


Japanese lotteries are just as popular as batting. Today, players can choose from three types of this entertainment – instant scratch cards, lotteries with unique numbers and draws with selected numbers.

Lottery tickets are freely available. They can be purchased at kiosks and shops as well as online at official websites. Prices range from 100 to 500 yen (23 to 115 hryvnia) and winnings can top 100 million yen (23 million hryvnia).

However, lottery winners may only receive their half of the winnings. The remaining 50% goes to local authorities and charities, and is spent on public welfare.

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The most popular entertainment in Japan is patinko machines, which are a rather obscure form of gambling. The thing about these machines is that you can’t win money. Players get various prizes for winning.

Patinko’s are a unique phenomenon in the gaming industry, but they can be described as a combination of a conventional slot machine and a vertical pinball machine. Those wishing to play buy metal balls, fill them into the machine and launch them into the playing field. Overcoming all sorts of obstacles, some of them fall into special holes. For each ball that got there, the player will receive more balls.

Once the player has got enough marbles they will get prizes for them. These can be both the usual little things like lighters and more expensive items like electronics. Exchanging the marbles for cash in salons is forbidden. However, for those wishing to get around this law, there are special exchange zones located quite far from the places where the machines are located. There you can exchange the prizes won at patinko’s for money.

It is not difficult to find patinko parlors in Japan. There are more than 16,000 of them throughout the country. Every year they are visited by 15 million players. It’s the popularity of patinko’s that has made the Japanese one of the gambling nations, despite strict legislation.

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Despite Japan’s rather limited range of gambling entertainment, gamblers can still find ways to have fun. The main thing to remember is that gambling should be handled responsibly.



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