Gamblers in Japan spend billions annually on a semi-legal pinball game whose revenues outstrip the amount of money wagered in Vegas.
Gambling trends in Japan
Pachinko is the vertical pinball type of slot machine that the people of Japan are infatuated with. Las Vegas is seen by many as the home of gambling, but its annual gambling revenues are outstripped by the funds wagered on pachinko every year. With over $200bn (£153bn) in revenue, this is greater than the GDP of New Zealand.
There are more than 10,600 pachinko parlors found across Japan. Each of them has rows and rows of pachinko slots machines lined up alongside one another. In basic terms, players attempt to get silver ball bearings into a scoring hole in the middle of the playing area. This is achieved by twisting a wheel that controls the way the balls enter the machine and consequently bounce their way down from pin to pin towards the target.
The machines are altered over time by the gambling companies so that players can’t become too good at repeating the same pattern and ensuring that the house maintains its edge.
Even though this game is massively popular, there are still some fuzzy areas when it comes to its legality. Gambling, for the most part, is banned in the country – only the likes of horse racing and certain motorsports can be wagered on legally.
Pachinko manages to work around the laws that are in place, thanks to a loophole. This is where there is an intermediary that separates how the game is won with the balls from how the winnings are converted into their cash form.
Each of the balls has an equivalent number of points which the player is able to go to the counter at the parlor to redeem for a prize. Therefore, you will get some type of item of an equivalent value. If you want to convert this item into cash, you can do so away from the parlor.
Often times these days there is simply a glass wall built between the cashier and the prize section which allows for quick conversion into cash. Often times the prize may be a physical amount of silver or gold, which of course has its own monetary value which can be converted into cash if needed.
The pachinko operators
Almost half of people’s leisure time in the country is spent in these parlors. As an interesting statistic, there are more individuals hired by these parlors than by Japan’s ten leading car manufacturers.
Dynam is one of the largest operators of these parlors and it has more than 400 halls across Japan. Its main selling point is that its parlors are quieter and cleaner than its competitors’.
For the most part, Korean Japanese run these parlors. It was they who brought the game into the country following the conclusion of the Second World War. During the war, a lot of Koreans had looked to Japan for jobs, with some also being forced into labor.
After the war, these people suffered from a lot of discrimination. The lack of job opportunities led many of the men to work in pachinko parlors while the women worked in restaurants.
The future of pachinko
Despite the massive revenues pachinko has seen in recent times, the number of parlors has decreased by about 30% over the past decade and a half.
A lot of the marketing efforts of the parlors focus on trying to get younger players into their venues. New laws have hindered the sector somewhat, as the maximum payout per machine was slashed by 33%. The maximum a given player can now win over the course of four hours is $450 ($343).
In addition, casinos, which were legalized in the country a couple of years ago, will no doubt pick up on the popularity of this game and try to get their own slice of the market for themselves. While there are strict rules on the casinos, such as locals are only allowed to go to the casino three times per week and must pay an entry fee each time, these casinos stand to make many billions of dollars.