As recently as a few years ago, the idea that there would ever be a Japan casino seemed ridiculous. Betting has been banned in Japan since 1907, after all.
The good news? In 2018, a piece of legislation passed the Japanese Diet, which allowed for the construction of so-called “Integrated Resorts” (IR) throughout Japan, a boon not only for gaming enthusiasts, but for Japanese tourism more broadly.
The bad news? The road from legalization to construction is a winding one, made all the more treacherous by the turbulence of 2020. Continue reading to learn more about when you might be able to legally bet in Japan.
Betting in Japan Before 2018
Although the idea of a Japan integrated resort isn’t a new one—in 2000, the then-Tokyo governor proposed building one in the area that is now Odaiba—betting has a long history in the country. Or rather, a non-history: With a few exceptions (namely, bets on horse racing), betting has been illegal in Japan since 1907. (Pachinko would count as a second exception to this rule, were it not for the fact that you don’t win cash when you play—more on that in a second.)
While the 2018 legislation is a step in the right direction, it’ll be a while—maybe even a decade—before you can legally bet in-person in Japan. For the moment, virtual betting is basically your only, well, bet. While you’re waiting for the IR concept to take off, familiarize yourself with an online casino brand, and practice your skills at the computer before you take them to Japan’s first modern poker tables and roulette wheels.
Japan’s Integrated Resorts: A Timeline
A landmark bill passes
In mid-2018, Japan’s Diet passed a bill that would allow the physical casinos to legally operate in Japan for the first time in more than a century. The bill had notable caveats, namely that casinos would need to be built as part of Integrated Resorts (IR) and not standalone facilities; such properties could initially number no more than three nationwide.
And where will the future casinos in Japan rise? No one knows for sure at this point, although a manmade island in Osaka is likely going to be one of the three. At the moment, cities are bidding for permission to be among the first to build IR properties in Japan, although this process is less than transparent.
Public debate continues
In spite of casinos being ostensibly legal following the passage of the 2018 bill, both the Japanese public and government have continued to debate how beneficial IR might ultimately be to Japan. Certain politicians have attempted to use their bids to secure IR rights to vault them into higher office—more on one particular leader guilty of that in a second!
Tokyo 2020 looms
While there was never a realistic possibility of any Japan casinos opening prior to the Tokyo Olympics, they were seen as both the beneficiary of the tourism boom leading up to the games, and a catalyst for the continued growth of the sector. The subject of IR in Japan became increasingly contentious in early 2020, as the Olympics—and the question of what would come next—loomed.
When Will Japan’s First Integrated Resort Open?
Prior to (and the surprise August 2020 resignation of long-service Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was a major proponent of IR in Japan), even the most optimistic observers believed that 2023 was the earliest Japan’s casino resorts would open. Unfortunately, because of the turbulence of 2020 (which, at the time of this article’s publication, is far from over), this seems increasingly unlikely.
More probably, Japan’s first casino hotels will open around a decade after the Japan integrated resort bill passed, in the late 2020s. This is very bad news to Osaka’s young and ambitious governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, who was hoping to open one or more of the resorts in his prefecture prior to the 2025 Osaka Kansai World Expo, an event many believe could propel him to the Prime Minister’s office before 2030.
FAQs About Integrated Resorts in Japan
How many casinos are in Japan?
As of 2020, there are zero casinos operating legally in Japan, although some betting does occur here in illegal settings. Although a piece of 2018 legislation paved the way for Integrated Resorts (IR) with casinos in Japan, these remain years in the future.
Why is betting banned in Japan?
Betting has been illegal under the Japanese penal code since 1907, which was at the end of the Meiji era. The continued ban speaks less to Japan’s contemporary morality of the Japanese, and more to the country’s resistance to buck tradition, even when it doesn’t suit the present moment.
Is pachinko still popular in Japan?
In addition to being extremely popular, pachinko parlors are the most visible counter-example to the ban on betting in Japan, even though looks can be deceiving. Most notably, players win “vouchers” rather than cash, which is why they’re exempt under the 1907 law.
The Bottom Line
It may a decade or longer before the first Japan casino resort opens its doors. Of course, considering that it’s been illegal to bet in Japan for more than a century, this is a short wait by comparison. The good news is that once the first Integrated Resort (IR) does open in Japan, your favorite casino games will be just the beginning. Japan’s IR properties will be cutting-edge, and among the most innovative, modern places to stay in all of Japan. Certainly, booking a room at one of these will be anything but a “gamble” if you’re simply betting on an amazing sleep!