Pachinko Prizes: Understanding Special Prizes

Gamble
June 17, 2024

Pachinko is one of Japan's most popular forms of entertainment, but many people may not be familiar with its unique system. In this article, we will provide a detailed explanation of the basic rules of pachinko, how to exchange the balls you win for prizes, and even the process of selling special prizes. Whether you're a beginner or a seasoned pachinko player, this article is packed with useful information. 

Introducing Pachinko

In this section, we will delve into the various features of pachinko which is a uniquely Japanese form of gaming. Learn about what makes pachinko a legal form of gambling with the provided detailed explanation of its unique prize exchange system.

What is Pachinko?

Pachinko is a game played using a vertical machine called a pachinko machine. Players borrow pachinko balls, operate a shooting device to fire the balls, and aim to get the balls into scoring pockets while bouncing them off pins. When a jackpot is hit, a large number of balls are paid out.

The System of Winning Prizes

The balls won in pachinko can be exchanged for prizes at the prize exchange counter. There are two types of prizes: general prizes and special prizes. General prizes include sweets, cigarettes, and daily necessities, while special prizes include metal items such as gold and silver, as well as prepaid cards.

Why Cash Cannot Be Received Directly

According to the law, pachinko isn't classified as gambling, hence direct cash payouts are prohibited. Instead, a system is implemented where cash is indirectly exchanged through prizes. This setup ensures pachinko remains categorized as "entertainment" under Japanese law, which prohibits cash rewards for gambling activities.

Typical Prizes That Can Be Exchanged at Pachinko Parlors

A customer exchanging prizes at a pachinko parlor in Japan

Image Source: https://www.gltjp.com/en/article/item/11436/ 

The balls won in pachinko can be exchanged for various prizes at the prize exchange counter. The prizes are divided into two categories: general prizes and special prizes. General prizes include many items that are familiar to our daily lives, such as daily necessities and food products. Let's take a closer look at the main general prizes that can be exchanged at pachinko parlors.

General Prizes and Special Prizes

The prizes that can be exchanged at pachinko parlors are divided into two categories: general prizes and special prizes. General prizes include daily necessities and food products, while special prizes include metal items such as gold and silver, as well as prepaid cards.

Main General Prizes

General prizes include the following.

[Sweets and Desserts]

Sweets such as chocolate, cookies, and cakes are available as prizes. Many products from well-known manufacturers can be found.

[Snacks]

Snacks such as potato chips, rice crackers, and beef jerky are also popular prizes.

[Retort Foods and Ramen]

Instant foods such as curry, pasta, and ramen can also be exchanged for prizes. Collaboration products with famous restaurants can also be found.

[Daily Necessities]

Daily necessities such as detergent, shampoo, and tissue paper are also available as prizes.

[Cigarettes]

Cigarettes can also be exchanged as prizes. There is a wide variety, from major brands to store-original cigarettes.

[Household Goods]

Household goods such as T-shirts, towels, and umbrellas can also be exchanged as prizes.

About Special Prizes

Up until now, we have focused on explaining general prizes, but next, we will introduce special prizes in detail.

What are Special Prizes?

Special prizes vary by store and region. For example, in Osaka, bookmarks are common, while in Tokyo, gold bullion chips enclosed in plastic cases are common. 

【Bookmark (Osaka)】

Metal bookmark pachinko prizes

Image Source: https://pachinko-curation.com/871/

【Chip (Tokyo)】

Gold chips in case pachinko prize

Image Source: https://liginc.co.jp/278504 

These gold bullion chips come in varieties such as 1g, 0.3g, and 0.1g. Additionally, depending on the region, items such as ballpoint pens, coffee beans, and perfume containers may also be provided as special prizes. These prizes are placed in plastic cases and have a hologram sticker from the amusement facility association affixed to them.

A major feature of special prizes is their high exchangeability for cash. Prizes such as gold bullion can be sold and directly converted into cash. Prepaid cards can also be indirectly converted into cash by using them, but direct conversion into cash is prohibited by law. Generally, gambling for cash prizes is illegal, except for certain activities explicitly permitted by law, such as horse racing (keiba), boat racing, bicycle racing (keirin), and some forms of lottery. Pachinko, despite its similarity to gambling, is allowed because players exchange their winnings for prizes rather than directly receiving cash.

About the Exchange System

The standard procedure involves players exchanging their winnings in the form of balls for special prizes at the pachinko parlor. These prizes are later traded for cash at designated exchange counters within or next to the establishment. The special prizes are then passed on to wholesalers who, in turn, exchange them for cash with the pachinko parlor. By not directly converting the balls won during gameplay into cash, pachinko parlors circumvent the legal loopholes associated with operating as illegal gambling establishments.

This flow is called the "three-store system (Santen Hoshiki)," where special prizes and cash circulate among the three parties, and in some cases, it evolves into a "four-store system" with the addition of collection agents. The prize exchange counters and wholesalers (including collection agents) are operated by organizations separate from the pachinko parlor, and they have secondhand dealer licenses and are independent to prevent self-buying. There are always questions about the legality of this system, and in Tokyo, gold prizes are strictly controlled to eliminate organized crime.

Prize exchange system for pachinko parlors in Japan

About Exchange Rates

In equivalent exchange, one ball is worth 4 yen and one medal is worth 20 yen, but in reality, a minimum number of balls or medals is required to exchange for a specific prize. For example, in Tokyo, there are three types of gold prizes: 1g, 0.3g, and 0.1g, with values of 8,000 yen, 2,500 yen, and 1,000 yen, respectively. To exchange for a 0.1g gold prize, 280 balls are required at the mainstream exchange rate of "4 pachinko" and 56 coins are required at "20 slot." In the case of equivalent exchange, the number of balls or medals required is lower compared to other rates, but when the exchange rate is low, more balls or medals are required for the same amount.

Due to the year-by-year increase in gold prices, the value of gold prizes has also increased, from 2,500 JPY for 1g in 2007 to about 12,000 JPY currently, more than quadrupling. As a result, the number of balls required to win at pachinko or pachislot may increase in the future.

Website where you can check the exchange rate for pachinko balls

Image Source: https://goldprice.org/ ( *Data as of 12:30 pm. on May 15, 2024)

Exchange Rates Vary by Region

The exchange rates for pachinko and pachislot vary by store and region, and in many cases, they are set close to the upper limit set by the regional association. From the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, equivalent exchange was common, but with the introduction of digital machines and the resulting loss of customers, non-equivalent operation also increased in pachinko.

Since 2012, due to the guidance of the National Police Agency on one-item-one-price, the exchange rate for pachislot has been on a downward trend. Currently, while there are regions that operate with equivalent exchange, low exchange rates are the mainstream nationwide. Additionally, one-item-one-price is not necessarily strictly enforced between halls, and confirmation of exchange rates relies on actual prize exchanges and information from other customers.

The Flow of Prize Exchange

Prize corner of a pachinko parlor in Japan

Image Source: https://yuraku-group.jp/blog-ano/keihinnuriba-tsukurikata/

First, take the balls you have won or your own balls to the counting machine to have the number of balls counted. There are two types of counting machines: automatic counting machines and manual counting machines. Automatic counting machines automatically count the balls just by putting them in, while manual counting machines require the staff to count the balls manually. Once the counting is complete, a counting ticket with the number of balls will be issued.

Step 1: Have the Balls Counted

Take the counting ticket to the prize counter. At the prize counter, you can exchange the number of balls listed on the counting ticket for your preferred prizes. The types of prizes vary by store, but generally include stationery, sweets, and home appliances. When exchanging for prizes, make sure that the value of the prizes matches the number of balls.

Step 2: Exchange for Prizes at the Prize Counter

Some stores may offer special prizes. Special prizes refer to high-value prizes such as gift certificates, gift cards, and merchandise vouchers. If you win a special prize, you can sell it to a specialty shop outside the store.

Step 3: Selling Special Prizes to Shops Outside the Pachinko Parlor

If you win a special prize, you can request to sell it to a specialized shop outside the pachinko parlor. This allows you to directly exchange the prize for cash. Consider selling your prizes at the following types of shops:

TUC Shops

Exterior view of TUC Shop in Japan

Image Source: https://www.casino.com/blog/2022/10/03/pachinko-slot/ 

TUC Shops are made for buying special prizes from pachinko parlors. They have locations throughout Japan, with some stores open 24 hours. TUC Shops offer competitive prices for special prizes. Their staff are skilled at properly assessing the value of prizes, so you can expect a fair offer. The process is smooth, allowing you to quickly convert your prize to cash.

Pawn Shops

Pawn shops are another option for selling special prizes. These long-standing businesses have a history of providing loans using various items as collateral. However, be aware that prices offered by pawn shops can vary significantly depending on the type of prize. It's recommended to check the offered price in advance. In rare cases, some pawn shops may be reluctant to purchase certain special prizes. It's wise to visit multiple shops to find the best deal.

Important Considerations

Pachinko is a unique form of entertainment in Japan, and the prize exchange system is a central element of this gaming experience. However, there are several important points to keep in mind when utilizing this system.

Understanding Legal Restrictions

Directly exchanging pachinko balls for cash at parlors is strictly prohibited by law. The legal process involves players exchanging their winnings for prizes, which can then be indirectly converted to cash at a separate location. For special prizes in particular, transferring them for the purpose of monetization is not permitted - they must be treated purely as prizes. Misunderstanding these regulations could lead to legal issues, so caution is necessary. The focus should be on enjoying the value of the prize itself, with monetization being a secondary consideration.

Staff Cannot Disclose the Location of Exchange Shops

After exchanging your pachinko winnings for a special prize, parlor staff typically cannot tell you where to find an exchange shop. This is because pachinko parlors and exchange shops are legally separate entities. Additionally, staff members avoid the risk of their guidance being interpreted as encouraging the conversion of game results into cash. To find an exchange shop, you'll need to search on your own or discreetly observe and follow other customers. However, overly conspicuous behavior should be avoided. Gather information carefully while being considerate of your surroundings.

Enjoying Pachinko as Entertainment

Pachinko should not be primarily viewed as a money-making activity, but rather enjoyed for its entertainment value. Prioritizing the fun of playing, along with proper budgeting and time management, allows for a wholesome recreational experience. The excitement and enjoyment gained through playing should be savored within responsible limits. Winning prizes is merely a result of the game, not the objective. To fully appreciate the true appeal of pachinko, it's crucial to approach it with moderation.

Conclusion

Pachinko offers an excellent opportunity to experience unique Japanese culture. Stepping into a pachinko parlor can feel like entering a different world, filled with excitement and energy. The thrill of shooting pachinko balls and hitting the right pins to score points is a unique experience. With a bit of luck, you might even win a large number of balls. Through its distinctive prize exchange system, you can gain a deeper appreciation for the intricacies of Japanese entertainment. Why not add a pachinko experience to your memories of your stay in Japan?

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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