Is Gambling Legal in Japan?

May 10, 2024

Japan has a unique gambling culture, with numerous legally enjoyable games such as pachinko and horse racing (keiba). However, illegal casinos and underground gambling remain prevalent. To help you understand the gambling landscape in Japan and enjoy it safely without getting involved in any trouble, this article will provide a detailed explanation of legal and illegal gambling in the country. We will cover the characteristics of Japanese gambling culture, the types and rules of representative legal gambling, the realities and legal risks of illegal gambling, and other essential information in an easy-to-understand manner.

Is Gambling Considered Legal in Japan?

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In Japan, certain forms of gambling are considered legal. Public gambling, such as horse racing (keiba), bicycle racing (keirin), boat racing (kyotei), and auto racing, is operated under government control, and betting can be conducted legally. Lotteries and sports promotion lotteries (toto) are also classified as public gambling.

On the other hand, casinos, sports betting (other than public competitions), and online gambling are generally considered illegal. However, with the passage of the "Integrated Resort (IR) Promotion Law" in 2016, casino operations will be permitted in limited locations in the future.

Japanese society generally has a strict perception of gambling. Historically, gambling has been viewed as a factor contributing to social problems. However, public gambling plays an important role as a source of revenue for local governments and is operated under appropriate management rather than being completely prohibited.

History of Gambling in Japan

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The history of gambling in Japan dates back to the Edo period, when gambling was already being practiced. At that time, it was called "bakuchi" and was widely enjoyed among the common people. With the advent of the Meiji era, the prototype of public gambling emerged, such as the sale of lottery tickets.

After World War II, public competitions such as horse racing, bicycle racing, boat racing, and auto racing were successively introduced. These were introduced to secure financial resources for local governments and provide entertainment for the public. On the other hand, private gambling such as casinos has been prohibited by law.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement toward the legalization of casinos to address declining sales in public competitions and revitalize local economies. In 2016, the "Integrated Resort (IR) Promotion Law" was enacted, making it possible to operate casinos in limited regions.

Legal Gambling in Japan

In Japan, there are legally recognized and regulated forms of gambling. Representative examples include horse racing, bicycle racing, auto racing, and pachinko. Each of these has its own unique characteristics and attractions, enjoyed by many people. Let's explore them in more detail.

Bicycle Racing (Keirin)

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Keirin is a public gambling sport centered around bicycle racing. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and is held at 43 keirin tracks nationwide. The purchase of betting tickets is limited to those aged 20 and above. Keirin is a sport where the skills and tactics of the riders are crucial elements. The jockeying among riders and the speed battles on the final straight are particularly thrilling to watch. Keirin also contributes to the spread and promotion of bicycle racing, and the performances of the riders captivate many fans.

Auto Racing

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Auto racing is a public gambling sport focused on motorcycle racing. Like keirin, it is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and is held at five auto race tracks nationwide. The appeal of auto racing lies in the powerful sight of motorcycles racing at high speeds. Riders skillfully navigate the corners and compete at speeds exceeding 100 km/h on the straights. The thrilling race developments are sure to excite the spectators.

Boat Racing (Kyotei)

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Kyotei is a public gambling sport centered around boat racing. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and is held at 24 boat race stadiums nationwide. While most boat racers are men, there are also female racers. The appeal of kyotei lies in the powerful sight of boats gliding across the water at high speeds and the race developments. The battles around the turning marks and the fierce dead heats toward the finish line keep the spectators on the edge of their seats. Kyotei also contributes to securing financial resources for local governments and plays a role in revitalizing regional economies.

Horse Racing (Keiba)

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Keiba is a public gambling sport focused on horse racing. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries and is held at 10 central racecourses (JRA) and local racecourses (NAR) nationwide. Japanese horse racing is world-renowned and attracts many foreign fans. Famous races include the Japanese Derby, Arima Kinen, and Tenno Sho. The appeal of horse racing lies in the dynamic running of beautiful horses and the skillful riding techniques of the jockeys. The different combinations of horses in each race and variables such as track conditions add to the enjoyment of predicting the outcomes.

Lotteries (Takarakuji)

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Lotteries are a form of public gambling where players purchase lottery tickets, and if the winning numbers are drawn, they can win prize money. It is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and is sold by prefectures and designated cities. The proceeds from lotteries are used as a financial resource for local governments. Representative lotteries include the Year-End Jumbo Lottery and the Summer Jumbo Lottery. The appeal of lotteries lies in the possibility of winning a large sum of money with a small purchase. Lottery draws are also televised, adding to the event-like atmosphere and attracting the interest of many people.

Sports Promotion Lottery (Toto)

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Toto is a public gambling game where players predict the results of soccer matches. It is supervised by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, and the nickname "toto" is used for the Sports Promotion Lottery. The proceeds from toto are used as funds for sports promotion. The appeal of toto is that any soccer fan can easily participate. If your predictions are correct, you can not only win prize money but also contribute to the promotion of sports in Japan. Toto also plays a role in increasing the popularity of the J.League, as it uses J.League match results as the subject of predictions.

Pachinko and Pachislot

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Pachinko and pachislot are widely known as unique forms of gambling in Japan. What's distinctive is their peculiar operating system. They adopt the so-called "three-store system" to avoid the application of gambling laws. In pachinko parlors, customers do not directly purchase balls or medals with cash; instead, they acquire special prizes that can be exchanged for regular prizes. These special prizes can then be exchanged for cash at prize exchange centers, effectively giving the games a gambling nature. Pachinko and pachislot operate through this complex system.

The appeal of pachinko and pachislot lies in their ease of play and entertainment value. They can be enjoyed casually with a small amount of money, and there's a chance to hit it big with a jackpot. Pachinko parlors also create a unique atmosphere with its presentation and sound effects of each machine and the excitement during bonus rounds, attracting many people. Pachinko and pachislot have become established as a form of mass entertainment in Japan and have a significant impact on society.

Illegal Gambling in Japan

In Japan, there are illegal forms of gambling that are prohibited by the government. Some examples include casinos and illegal sports betting. These types of gambling not only threaten individuals' assets and livelihoods but can also serve as a source of funding for criminal organizations, becoming a social problem. Participating in illegal gambling is not only a violation of the law but also puts individuals' safety and property at risk. This section will explain the realities of illegal gambling in Japan and the issues surrounding it.

Casino Games

Casino games are generally illegal in Japan, but with the passage of the "Integrated Resort (IR) Promotion Law" in 2016, casino operations will be permitted in limited locations in the future. Casino games (facilities offering poker rooms and blackjack) in other locations are illegal. Amusement casinos cannot be explicitly labeled as illegal since they do not involve betting with real money, but they are considered a gray area. There are numerous amusement casinos in Japan, particularly in the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku, Tokyo.

Sports Betting (Other than Public Competitions)

Betting on sports other than public competitions such as horse racing, bicycle racing, boat racing, and auto racing (e.g., betting on the results of soccer or baseball matches) is illegal. However, with the spread of the internet, access to illegal sports betting sites has become easier, posing a problem.

Online Gambling

In Japan, operating online casinos and sports betting services is illegal. Although Japanese law is unclear on using foreign online gambling sites, they are generally not recommended due to the high risk of addiction and potential for personal and financial information leaks.

The legality of online casinos in Japan is debated. Some argue that they might be illegal as Japanese law doesn’t specifically address online gambling, while others contend that these casinos are legal because they operate with foreign licenses and host their servers abroad, which is akin to gambling in a foreign country. Legal complications mainly arise when the operations are clearly based in Japan or target Japanese players, such as providing exclusive tables for them. The lack of explicit legal guidelines and Supreme Court rulings leaves the legality of online casinos in a gray area.

Differences Between In-Casinos and Online Casinos

In-casinos, also known as Internet casinos, illegally offer casino games at physical locations within Japan without proper licensing, often leading to confusion with legitimate online platforms. Conversely, online casinos, also referred to as On-Kajji, operate legally on the internet under foreign licenses from countries where gambling is allowed. Understanding the legal distinctions between these two types of casinos is crucial for making safe gambling choices in Japan.

In any case, it's hard to say that online casinos are legal, so they are not recommended.

Other Gambling Activities

Betting money on games such as mahjong, shogi, and go is also illegal. These games are legal as a form of entertainment, but betting money on them can be considered a violation of gambling laws. There are also illegal casinos and underground casinos, and the involvement of criminal organizations such as the yakuza is a concern.

Future Prospects

In Japan, there is a growing movement toward the legalization of casinos. With the passage of the "Integrated Resort (IR) Promotion Law" in 2016, casino operations will be possible in limited regions. The IR Development Act aims to develop large-scale integrated resort facilities that include casino facilities.

While there are expectations for the economic effects and tourism promotion of casino legalization, concerns have also been raised about an increase in gambling addiction and the deterioration of public safety. In the future, it is expected that there will be national discussions regarding the location and operation of IR facilities.

Precautions When Gambling in Japan

There are several important precautions to keep in mind when enjoying gambling. While gambling can be enjoyed as a form of entertainment, excessive gambling can interfere with daily life, so moderation is necessary. Here are some precautions and etiquette to follow when enjoying gambling.

Understanding Legal Gambling

The types of gambling that are legally conducted in Japan are limited. These include public gambling (horse racing, bicycle racing, boat racing, auto racing), lotteries, and casino facilities in specific regions. Gambling activities outside of these are considered illegal, so caution is required.

Avoiding Illegal Gambling

Illegal gambling should be avoided, and even gambling in gray areas can result in arrests if cracked down upon, so it's best to steer clear.

Limited Use of Casinos

Casinos in integrated resort (IR) facilities are only open in limited regions. When visiting a casino, confirm whether the facility is government-approved and that its operations are legal.

Checking Age Restrictions

The legal age for gambling in Japan is 20 and above. When entering racetracks or casinos, a passport or other form of identification may be required, so it's important to prepare these before visiting.

Practicing Self-Control

When enjoying gambling, practice thorough self-management to avoid developing an addiction. Japan is also strengthening measures against gambling addiction, and responsible gambling is being promoted. Set a budget and time limit to enjoy gambling responsibly.

Being Mindful of Cultural Considerations

In Japan, there can be strict social views on gambling. Be cautious when discussing gambling in public places and respect the culture and customs of the region.


In Japan, certain forms of gambling, mainly public gambling, are legalized. On the other hand, casinos, sports betting, and online gambling are generally considered illegal.

When enjoying gambling in Japan, it is important to choose legal forms of gambling and avoid illegal ones.  Otherwise, if the police go to  crackdown the establishment, customers may also be arrested on the spot. It is also necessary to be aware of gambling addiction, practice self-control, and enjoy gambling responsibly while being mindful of cultural considerations.

PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer
PIJ Writer, a seasoned connoisseur in his 40s based in Japan, boasts an unparalleled depth of knowledge and experience within the vibrant landscapes of both drinking and gambling, alongside his well-documented ventures into various red-light districts. This extensive exploration encompasses not just the nocturnal delights of Japan's red-light areas but also its myriad of bars, horse racing, pachinko, and many others. Drawing on his firsthand experiences, he conveys the appeal and characteristics of Japan's diverse adult entertainment districts and his enjoyment of the nightlife scene through his writing for PIJ.

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