Pachinko and Slot Machines in Japan

Anyone who is even remotely familiar with the concept of online or offline gambling has at least tried a few turns at some virtual or real-life slot machines already. However, if you are an expatriate who recently shifted to Japan for work, or for any other reason, you may find the term pachinko to be an unfamiliar one. Stay with us as we take you through the basics of slot machines, pachinko, and the gambling scene, as it exists in Japan today.

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What is Pachinko?

Pachinko is a game of vertical Pinball, which bears some similarity with traditional slot machines, but has enough differences in the core game mechanics to set it apart from slots.

How is Pachinko Played?

To help the reader understand exactly how the game works, we have listed a few of its key game mechanics below.

  • Its chief components are silver-colored ball bearings, constantly changing sets of pins and a controlling wheel
  • The player turns the wheel, which controls the shooting of the ball bearings
  • The objective of pachinko is to drop as many ball bearings into the scoring hole as is possible for the player, within the given time limit

How Big is Pachinko in Japan?

Quite simply put, there is nothing in the gambling world that comes even close to being as big as pachinko, which is still an understatement! A few facts, as they were published back in 2018, should provide more clarification regarding just how big pachinko really is.

  • In 2018, the entire gambling revenue of the US was roughly $160 billion in total, including both offline and online establishments
  • Las Vegas is the world’s largest casino strip, and it managed to contribute a total of $6.6 billion in revenue during the same year
  • Between April 2018 and March 2019, the UK’s total gambling revenue was £14.4 billion or roughly $19 billion
  • Ford, GM, Mitsubishi, and Honda generated approximate revenues of $160 billion, $147 billion, $145 billion, and $143 billion respectively
  • In 2018, Pachinko generated $200 billion+ in revenue, excluding all other forms of legal gambling in the country
  • There are over ten thousand pachinko parlours in the country
  • Almost 50% of all Japanese leisure time is spent on pachinko machines
  • Most industries in Japan doesn’t employ as many people as the pachinko industry alone does

Keep in mind that this doesn’t take into account the growing Japanese gambling industry, which has only been legalized recently. The fact that pachinko is bigger than some of the biggest automotive manufacturers in the world, as well as the entire gambling industry of the United States and the United Kingdom combined, should give one an idea of just how massive this seemingly simple game of vertical pinball really is!

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Is Pachinko Legal in Japan?

Pachinko was originally controlled by the Yakuza, but changes have been made since the early days of complete Yakuza control. The strange thing is that pachinko wasn’t or isn’t totally legal or illegal in Japan! By simply placing an intermediary between betting, winning, and cashing out, pachinko parlours managed to achieve a legal status and given the tremendous size of the industry, as well as how many people it employs, it’s not going to become illegal anytime soon either. It should be noted, though, that in spite of being so popular and massive, pachinko is still regarded as a shady activity in Japan, which includes the people involved in the business.

Pachinko is Recently Facing Competition from Legal Casinos

Whether you are Japanese or Finnish, authentic casino establishments like Suomi Kasino have now been legalized in Japan. The gambling licenses were for a long time limited only to horse racing and car racing in the country, but doors have opened for gamblers to enjoy a variety of casino slot games in Japan, from 2018 onwards. Offline establishments have very strict regulations though, but it can change over time.

It is predicted that even with its present limitations, the Japanese gambling industry (excepting pachinko) will grow big enough to become one of the top five gambling industries internationally. How that will affect pachinko remains to be seen though. However, it is quite likely that they will lose a good deal of the market share to slot machines. The biggest reason why slot machines are predicted to become a competition for pachinko is on account of the fact that unlike before, Japanese gamblers now have a choice.

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