The Hidden Craze of Sports Betting in Japan
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In Western media portrayals of Japan, one tired and problematic trope that is frequently trotted out is that the Japanese people are manic gamblers. Even Oscar-winning films such as Martin Scorcese’s Casino capitalize heavily on the idea that the Japanese are much more prolific gamblers than their American or British counterparts.
However, a quick look at the legal situation suggests a different story. Almost all forms of online betting remain strictly prohibited in Japan, with wagering on most sports being subject to chapter 23 of the Japanese penal code, which outlaws most types of betting.
However, things are changing fast. Just last year the Japanese Diet passed through a raft of legislation to legalize casino gaming for the first time in the country’s history, with the immediate result being that three large casino resorts, one of which will be operated by MGM Grand, will soon open in the country.
When it comes to sports betting, the practice is far more widespread and popular than the law would suggest. There are several legal loopholes that have been exploited by sports betting fans for decades. One of these allows for so-called “Toto” betting, wherein people can place bets on J-League soccer games offline, in a similar style to a lottery.
Betting on horse races is also technically legal as long as the activity is done with a licensed bookmaker on the same grounds that the race is taking place. This again does not quite reflect the reality: TV news channels, newspapers, magazines, and social media channels all frequently broadcast horse betting odds not just for domestic races, but also global events like the Grand National in the UK.
Similarly, odds on international sporting events such as the Premier League and the World Cup are also freely and widely available, despite betting on these being supposedly illegal. This is mainly because Japanese people use international sports betting platforms to place their wagers, which fall outside of the scope of Japanese law.
Major platforms such as Oddschecker, which offer free bets and up-to-date odds on all international sporting events, are the primary way that thousands of Japanese people access the global betting market. The practice has become so widespread that Japanese lawmakers are finally facing up to the reality, with several politicians advocating the full legalization of all forms of betting, on the basis that doing so would provide welcome tax revenue for the heavily-indebted country.
Betting of all types is ingrained in Japanese society and has a long social and cultural pedigree, so it will be interesting to see whether that will be able to come out into the open in the years to come.