Japan’s burgeoning IR industry continues to face widespread opposition from a community concerned about problem gambling. How can this issue be solved? Noriko Tanaka, a former problem gambler and representative of Japan’s Council to Consider Problem Gambling, offers her thoughts to IAG.
Shintaro Kamimura: It is said you come from three generations of gambling addiction. May I ask about the circumstances?
Noriko Tanaka: Yes. My grandfather, my father, my husband and I had gambling addictions and have recovered. My grandfather’s vice was pachinko, my father’s was public forms of gambling (keirin, horse racing, boat racing and lottery) and my husband, well he gambled on everything. I was also addicted to public forms of gambling, casinos and shopping. When I was a child, we lived a poor life due to my grandfather’s and father’s problems. I was raised in a troubled home caused by addiction. Now, my husband and I have recovered.
SK: How do you determine if someone has an addiction?
NT: We developed a simple screening test and checklist. It’s called LOST. Limitless, Once again, Secret, Take money back. “Limitless” refers to not setting or keeping limits in terms of budget or time, “Once again” means using any winnings for the next gambling session, “Secret” means hiding the gambling and “Take money back” means chasing losses. These four behaviors form the acronym LOST. If at least two of these apply to someone, they are suspected of having a gambling addiction.
SK: What are some of the specific activities your organization is involved in?
NT: We focus on family support. The most important thing is how families who are involved respond to the addict, so we provide support for that. We also intervene if the addict has committed violence or a crime and help connect people to hospitals and support groups. Once the addict has recovered, we provide support in social recovery.
SK: Do you have many inquiries?
NT: We get a lot. It’s really a high number. About 80% come in with a pachinko or pachislot problem and the others are public gambling, but lately there are more FX cases. Right now there aren’t many measures in place for problem gambling so the industry ends up being massive and I think the biggest issue is that there hasn’t been education on addiction measures.
SK: How do you think casinos will change things?
NK: Right now efforts are being made by the government, local municipalities and operators, but that’s only resulted in more available hospitals and insurance coverage for treatment. There has been no progress in anti-dependency measures. While the term “problem gambling” or “gambling addiction” is finally recognized, the support system is lacking and I think the problem is only going to get worse.
SK: Do you feel gambling is always a bad thing?
NT: No, I don’t believe that. Gambling is fun and I understand the desire to play for a diversion or entertainment. I also don’t think recognized industries like alcohol and games should be judged as good or bad. We are often misunderstood, but our objective is not to eliminate gambling. We are actually looking for ways to coexist. However, the industry side has a strong sense of guilt and isn’t willing to sit down with us.
SK: What types of systems look promising for problem gambling measures?
NT: Currently all measures are voluntary, so that means they can hire convenient experts that will say they’re doing something when they are actually doing very little. The existing public gambling forums and pachinko are that way. The so-called experts paid by the operators are just answering the phone. It’s a conflict of interest.
If it’s going to happen, there needs to be a skewer poking from the side like in Las Vegas where taxes are distributed for problem gambling countermeasures to third-party institutions that ensure equity and transparency. That’s why we need cooperation between the public and private sectors to build a distribution framework.
SK: Who will decide where funds would be distributed and based on what standards?
NT: It would be best if the government collected taxes and distributed to organizations. The obvious prerequisite is having no previous conflict of interest. If that isn’t respected, the entire basis wavers. I think there are also a variety of other options such as proof of achievement and transparency in finances.
SK: What type of measures will be effective for Japan?
NT: Japan needs to be more than a one trick pony. We need regional cooperation like there is with alcohol dependency, with a variety of organizations rooted in various regions so no one slips through the cracks. We also need further intellectual development regarding addiction.
There is little understanding, so dependency is taken as shameful, often delaying treatment. I hope we can change the environment so it is more inviting for social recovery after addiction.
The recovery process is fun. You make friends and connections, and find a place you belong, so life becomes a lot more fun. There needs to be more understanding about providing those places and about dependency.