As Abroad in Japan explains in the following video, “Pachinko” is the No. 1 gamble in Japan by far. Pachinko’s market value is over 200 Billion dollars, which is the equivalent of 4% of Japan’s GDP in 2018 (pretty insane!).
Yet, Pachinko’s market size has shrunk by two thirds over the last ten years.
The younger generation is not playing Pachinko as much since there are a lot of alternatives these days (you’ll be surprised how much Japanese people spend time and money on smartphone games). Still, Pachinko is a lot bigger than Horse Racing, Boat Racing, Lottery, and Sports Betting all combined.
So what is Pachinko exactly?
Pachinko (パチンコ) is a type of mechanical game originating in Japan and is used as both a form of recreational arcade game and much more frequently as a gambling device, filling a Japanese gambling niche comparable to that of the slot machine in Western gaming.
Pachinko parlors are widespread in Japan and usually also feature a number of slot machines (called pachislo or pachislots); hence, these venues operate and look similar to casinos. Modern pachinko machines are highly customizable.
One of the reasons why Pachinko has been so dominant in Japan is that there are no Casinos today (note: We’re differentiating Casinos in general and Pachinkos in Japan)
However, to attract more tourists from overseas, the Japanese government will likely legalize Casinos by 2022 by introducing the so-called “Casino Bill”. This legal reform will allow Casinos to be operated as part of Integrated Resorts (IR) in certain designated areas of Japan (it’s said either Osaka, Nagasaki, or Hokkaido).
If you want to see what Pachinko is like, you can try visiting a place like below:
We wouldn’t recommend playing (for a few reasons). One reason is the complexity of gambling for cash in Japan:
Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan. Pachinko balls won from games cannot be exchanged directly for money in the parlor. The balls also may not be removed from the premises and are engraved in identifiable patterns showing to which parlor they belong. Balls won at the parlor are exchanged for prizes or tokens, which can be exchanged for cash at a place nominally separate from the parlor. (Wikipedia)
But if you want to try, it’s better to go with a local friend who has played before, since “where to insert a bill,” “how to start and end,” “how to collect the balls,” can be quite confusing for a first-timer. Especially, exchanging prizes to cash at a “nominally separated exchange place” can be challenging. Anyway…