Pachinko driving Japanese Gambling Problem

Although Japan doesn’t have any land-based casinos, they do feature thousands of pachinko parlors across the country. And it appears that the prevalence of this slots/pinball hybrid game is causing a sizable portion of the Japanese population to have a gambling problem.

The country’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that 4.8% of the Japanese adult population suffers from pathological gambling, with pachinko being the main culprit.

In comparison, South Korea, which is just hundreds of miles from Japan, only has 0.5% of their population addicted to casino games. And as points out, this is quite ironic when considering that most Japanese pachinko parlors are owned by Koreans.

According to Dr. Timothy Fong, director of gambling studies at UCLA, Japan may lean more towards gambling addiction because of their surroundings. The Japanese value keeping emotions under control, meaning they look to gambling as a way to self-medicate. “Japanese hate gambling but have an urge to do it,” Fong says. “At the beginning, it felt good. Once they’re an addict, they can’t stop.”

Of course, another issue here is how easily accessible pachinko is in the country. Statistics from 2013 show that there are at least 2.79 million pachinko machines in Japan, as compared to less than 1 million slot machines in the United States. This figure becomes even more shocking when you consider that Japan has 127.3 million residents, compared to 318.9 million in the U.S.

And a big reason for so many pachinko machines in Japan is because they operate in a legal gray space of “entertainment,” and they can be advertised anywhere and put in any city. Contrast this to slots in America, where casinos must jump through legal hoops and pay high tax rates just to operate.

With some lawmakers in the Land of the Rising Sun still pushing for land-based casinos, it will be interesting to see if this pachinko addiction will hurt the situation at all. MGM and Las Vegas Sands have been lobbying pretty hard for laws against casino resorts to be lifted, but opponents will point to the 4.8% addiction rate as reason why casinos shouldn’t be built here. That said, pachinko could play a heavy factor into whether casinos and poker rooms ever find their way to Japan.