Could Japan’s new casinos actually REDUCE its high problem gambling rates?

  • Campaigner Tanaka Noriko wants robust anti-gambling controls
  • Japan will introduce casino resorts in 2018

A recovered Japanese gambling addict and prominent anti-gambling campaigner has spoken out about her experiences with problem gambling in a country dominated by pachinko – a gambling device that looks like a cross between pinball and a slot machine.

Pachinko is the Japanese equivalent of slot machines, and even more popular.
Pachinko and other legal gambling in Japan has been criticized by one campaigner as having lax regulation, which leads to gambling problems.

Tanaka Noriko has also criticised the government for failing to address gaming regulations properly in a revealing article posted on Nippon.com.

Tanaka Noriko has spent much of her life battling personal addiction, making her part of the 3.2 million estimated gambling addicts in Japan. Today she is a crusader for the introduction of a safer, stricter gambling culture.

Later this year or early next, Japan will extend its gambling offerings in a major reform that will see casino resorts open in the nation for the first time.

And unlike with pachinko machines, the Japanese government is expected to introduce strict casino control laws during 2018, and indeed are expected to favor casino operators who can prove an unwavering commitment to responsible gambling measures.

Historic underregulation of gambling in Japan

Tanaka has shared personalexperiences of gambling addiction, including being raised by a family of gamblers and marrying a man who also struggled with a gaming addiction.

For Tanaka and her family, pachinko was the cornerstone of addiction. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that 3.6% of the entire population struggles with problem gambling, and Pachinko and race betting are highlighted as the biggest culprits.

For comparison, just 0.8% of the UK population is considered afflicted with problem gambling, according to UK Gambling Commission figures.

Both of these gambling industries are woefully under-regulated in Japan, she argues.

Pachinko parlours often have no age or identity verification, and there are rarely any upper limits on bets made at Japanese racetracks, she argues, adding: “This indifference to excessive wagering that has enabled the disorder to spread through society.”

Not only that, but the Japanese culture is seen as one which shuns help, and that problems should be dealt with internally. This ‘culture of sham’ leads to problem gamblers trying to deal with the issue themselves, which is rarely possible once addiction has set in.

New casinos could force change

In December 2016, Japan passed a law which legalized casino gambling across the nation. The legislation paves the way for huge integrated resort properties to be built, much like those seen in Macau and Singapore.

Along with gaming floors to attract tourists, the resorts will feature hotels, retail spaces and entertainment centers. Though no operator has officially confirmed their intention to step into the Japanese market, some of the world’s leading casinos are expected to compete next year for the handful of Japanese gaming licences.

Japan premier Shinzo Abe
Overseas casino companies, including Wynn, Las Vegas Sands, MGM and Melco are all vying for the attentions of Japanese politicians, including Premier Shinzo Abe, to win exclusive rights to build integrated casino resorts.

This month, Japanese lawmakers will debate a bill introduced by the Liberal Democratic Party. The bill’s intention is to combat gambling addiction through the tight control of gaming industries. While the new laws are aimed to curb gambling addiction when the new casino laws kick in, the bill should also apply to race betting and pachinko.

This means those industries will be strictly regulated for the first time.

“Only time will tell what the fallout from allowing casinos in Japan will be,” concludes Tanaka. “[We] hope that the Japanese government will seize on this moment to finally implement robust and effective measures to address the crippling problem of gambling addiction.”

Could an expansion of gambling in Japan actually be the spur to put in place robust responsible gambling policy?

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