Inside Japan’s Ongoing Battle Against Illegal Gamingpublish


Japan’s online gambling market for casinos and sports betting is expected to be worth $10.1 billion by 2027, according to data from research group IMARC. By comparison, the same market reached the $6.7 billion mark in 2021.

In opposition to the promising gambling market here and the exciting plans to build the country’s first Integrated Resorts, Japan witnessed its first arrests for illegal gambling at the start of February 2024.

The arrests were part of the country’s ongoing plans to crack down on illegal gambling while restricting most forms of gambling.

Restrictive Legislation, Continuous Efforts to Stop Illegal Gambling


In spite of the ongoing growth of the gambling industry in the land of the rising sun and the excellent potential of the industry here, government officials have been constantly trying to crack down on illegal online casinos as well as their players in the past years.

The country still has some of the most restrictive gambling laws in the world, even though there are rumors about a potential relaxation of the regulations and an expansion of the industry.

At the moment, Japan only allows fixed forms of betting on selected sports including motorcycle, boat, and horse racing.

Fines and Prison Time for Illegal Players


Last June, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida pledged to shut down online casinos that are targeting Japanese citizens while reiterating the activity as a “gambling crime.” Even more, several agencies and ministries have been assigned to this task.

In October 2022, Japan’s National Police Agency even issued a public warning in which they declared anyone using online gaming sites as doing a criminal act called “habitual gambling”. The maximum fine was capped at 500,000 yen ($3,754.43) along with a maximum prison term set at three years.

Japan is known for its long decades of efforts in the fight against underground gambling with unsatisfying results for the authorities. However, the tighter rules triggered new ripples of concern.

The February Arrests


In February 2024, police forces in Tokyo announced they arrested eight people for allegedly offering illegal casino gambling to customers using a room in a building located in Kabukicho, Tokyo’s entertainment district.

The Metropolitan Police Department also arrested Hiroshi Hitomi, the leader of the illegal gambling operation, who admitted to the allegations brought to him.

The 24/7 online gambling operation was receiving between 70 and 80 customers a day and generated over 48B yen ($351.7 million) in revenue since it started welcoming players in November 2005. The investigation helped the police connect the operation with gangsters who were allegedly sponsored by its profits.

The Japan Opportunity


So far, the authorities’ efforts to discourage players from engaging in their favorite activity didn’t bring any satisfying results for authorities.

On the contrary, the country has been preparing to launch its first Integrated Resorts (IR) as a result of the Integrated Resorts Implementation Act that was adopted in July 2018.

As expected, the news attracted the attention and interest of the biggest IR companies on the globe interested in taking advantage of the virgin IR market in the third-largest economy on the globe with a $5 trillion GDP and a population of over 125 million.

Lots of cities and prefectures in the country started to create dedicated “IR promotion offices” with the purpose of exploring the newly born “Japan opportunity”. Huge international names in the gambling industry including Wynn, Caesars, Genting, Galaxy, MGM, and Sands all showed interest in taking advantage of the newly created opportunity.

However, ever since the country embraced the gambling legalization bill in 2018, Japan has been seriously lagging behind with the development of the much-anticipated resorts. This has not stopped analysts to continue to keep an eye on the gaming pursuit with three IRs expected to be approved.

2024 may just be the year when Japanese players will finally get to visit the first IRs. This is in spite of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism not expressing any confidence in its ability to make a final decision by the end of the year in regard to the proposals for the first IRs in Osaka and Nagasaki.

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