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Pachinko in Japan - statistics & facts

Pachinko is an arcade-style gambling game played on slot-like machines in designated parlors. The game is popular in Japan. Next to sports betting, it is one of the few gambling activities which are officially tolerated in Japanese society. The success of the game has spawned a huge business that dwarfs other amusement segments in the leisure sector. The pachinko business is a multi-trillion Japanese yen industry. A prolonged decline has been observed in terms of the industry’s market size and the pachinko player population, but there are still millions of active players indulging in the game.

Sidestepping the law

From the legal point of view, pachinko stands at the brink of lawfulness, as gambling is prohibited by Japan’s penal code. Various legal loopholes and workarounds are employed to circumvent going against the law. Pachinko parlors were given legal status as an entertainment business, as stipulated by the “Act on Control and Improvement of the Amusement and Entertainment Business”. The act prescribes regulations that apply to pachinko parlors (among other establishments) and enables public safety commissions to issue or revoke parlor operating licenses, among other rights. This places much decisional power, theoretically, in the hands of local or federal governmental functionaries. As pachinko developed into a driving force of the Japanese leisure sector, creating job opportunities, and contributing with a handsome amount of corporate taxes, there has been little financial incentive for decision-makers to upheave the status quo. In addition to taxpaying, entities representing the pachinko industry are also actively financing numerous social projects, providing groups and initiatives with donations.

Satellite industry: amusement machine production

As mentioned above, pachinko is played in designated parlors which are commonly equipped with hundreds of machines. Currently, there are a few million pachinko and pachi-slot machines in service in Japan. Increasing demand in the production of machines generated by the pachinko industry (and other leisure facilities such as arcade centers) engendered the amusement machine production industry. The high popularity of pachinko naturally led to content diversification and further development of the gaming machines to address consumer needs and optimize gameplay, as well as machine profitability. It led to the ongoing collaboration between the content- and the pachinko industry, during which many of the most successful machine franchises came from anime shows. This content-driven strategy aims to keep customers engaged and entertained, while the machine churn that comes along with the constant renewal of the game content provides fuel to the amusement machine production industry.

Gambling trends in Japan

Currently, pachinko remains a popular leisure time activity for many Japanese people. Both, the average annual frequency of playing pachinko and the average annual spending on pachinko have remained relatively stable with no clear downward trends to be noticed. However, this is only true for active pachinko players, which are continuously shrinking in number. An ever-growing number of distractions to choose from, less money to spare, and the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic that brought restrictions on operating hours of pachinko parlors are some possible reasons that explain this trend. On the other hand, gambling activities such as horse race betting and boat racing have increased significantly during the pandemic. These circumstances invite the supposition that the prolonged contraction of the pachinko industry most probably is not due to the sudden loss of appetite for gambling of the Japanese, but rather hint at the difficulty the pachinko industry has in adapting to new social realities.

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