No Dice: Japanese Minister Says Online Casinos Not in the Pipeline

Author Thomas Wolf
March 17, 2021 3 min read
by Thomas Wolf

Although they’re moving very slowly, Japan’s integrated resort casino projects are nearing a stage in which actual construction may begin.

However, one minister this week quickly shut down any hopes that this might lead to legal online casino gaming any time soon.

“Online casinos are not subject to the ‘casino acts’ in the IR Development Act because online casinos are illegal in the first place”

Hachiro Okonogi, Chairperson of the country’s National Public Safety Commission

An opposition politician noted that, although it’s officially illegal, many Japanese gamble online at sites that are unlicensed in Japan.

Mr. Okonogi’s response did not hold back. “There is precedent of online casinos being run in Japan, busted and tried in court” he said – and that was that for the topic.

Never Worry About It!

Local media have recently reported a huge upswing in Japanese online gambling since the pandemic.

Pachinko machines, a sort of mechanical slot game, are very popular in the country already and have dodged regulation for a long time.

The move online is not an unexpected one but will still trouble authorities.

According to East Asian newspaper Asahi Shimbun, researchers employed by an Israeli company called SimilarWeb helped reporters track online gambling data in Japan from December to January 2020.

The most popular casino site is Malta-based site Vera & John. It saw 77.5 million visits from Japanese customers in January 2020 compared with just 600,000 at the start of the report in 2018.

According to Asahi Shimbun, operators seem certain their customers face very little risk of sanctions – even though gambling is completely illegal for the customer in Japan.

“Worry that you may be arrested for gambling? Never worry about it,” says Vera & John’s Japanese website.

Unaware of the Law

It is, in practice, indeed difficult to get enough evidence – and public support – to prosecute people for gambling online.

This isn’t to say they aren’t trying. “We will round up as many users as possible” a National Police Agency official told local media this month, indicating that arrests are ongoing.

However, making any dent in the number of Japan’s estimated 2-3 million illegal online gamblers is a tough ask.

Foreign companies in countries where online gambling is illegal are highly unlikely to give up their customer data to Japanese authorities, making large-scale arrests basically impossible.

The public, meanwhile, generally prefers authorities to go after the casinos themselves – but again, without a whole host of extra legislation, this isn’t really possible.

Of course, some countries don’t care about all that. Less democratically-minded governments like China and Iran, for example, can aggressively arrest people on foreign soil and even threaten to execute online casino providers if they’re caught.

In Japan, though, public perception is very important – and apparently, a lot of Japanese people aren’t even aware gambling is illegal.

Asahi Shimbun newspaper quoted one report that said up to 41% of respondents to a survey thought that online gambling was in a “grey zone” in Japan.

Although there’s no specific legislation that deals with online gambling, authorities have made it clear many times they consider it to be de-facto illegal for both the player and operator.

For the latest updates on regulatory news around the world and much more in the online casino space, keep checking our pages!

Author Thomas Wolf

Author

Thomas Wolf

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