Japan is a country full of culture and tradition, many of which are followed strictly. Where gambling is concerned, especially what happens at casinos, there is not much to talk about in the country. Nearly all forms of gambling (slot machines, table games, poker) are currently banned by a very conservative law and have been there for quite some time. Although there are plans to change this, there are currently no casinos in the country and very few types of gaming that anyone outside Japan will know about.


History of Gambling

The earliest reference to gambling in Japan is in the eighth-century, 31-volume “Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan)”. The book states that in 685 AD, Emperor Temmu passed the time playing a dice game similar to backgammon called sugo-roku (double sixes). Nevertheless, once the throne was claimed by his successor Empress Jito, the pastime was forbidden. Gambling had become widespread among the inhabitants of the capital, Heiankyo (now Kyoto), by the middle of the Heian Period (794-1185). People vigorously wagered on almost anything: cock battles, horse races, cricket matches, and fanciful contests using flowers, pictures, or folding fans. Professional gamblers, known as bakuto, emerged around this time. Historical accounts provided details of gamblers’ brawls, killings and thefts, culminating in increasingly restrictive steps to repress their activities. The authorities issued no less than nine edicts banning gambling between 1225 and 1284.During the Edo era (1603-1867), ruling samurai class members were prohibited from participating in the 1615 Buke Shohatto (laws regulating the samurai). The second article read: “It is necessary to keep gaming amusements and drinking parties within due limits. Being addicted to gambling is the first step towards losing one’s domain”. Many samurais chose to ignore these rules. Nevertheless, in the case of commoners, the gambling laws were applied much more strictly. Habitual perpetrators have been punished by flogging, imprisonment, or even death. The authorities in 1718, unable to halt the practice, made a distinction between light betting (wagers under 50 mon) and larger bets. Petty gambling, such as lotteries, came to be accepted as a means of controlling the population. In addition to dice, many games, introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, used karuta, small cards with multicoloured patterns. As the Tokugawa shogunate’s power began to decline in the 19th century, gambling in rural areas became prevalent, leading to fights between authorities and heavily armed gangs. After Japan ended its national isolation policy officially, new forms of gambling from abroad quickly caught on. Western-style horse racing had arrived in the late Edo era, although it was not until 1923 that the Sport of Kings became regulated by law. China, another nation of enthusiastic gamblers, became the origin of many new games. Mah-jongg has become widespread here since the 1920s. Gamblers became an essential part of the community by the Taisho Era (1912-1926). Since then, gambling slowly grew in Japan to what it is today.

Some believe that the government might overturn a century’s worth of law to bring Western-style gambling to the public in the coming years, paving the way for gambling to become a much more open and inclusive sport. When licenses to physical casinos are effectively issued, the country can also extend this to online casinos.