Inside Asian Gaming

INSIDE ASIAN GAMING MAY 2018 30 Regulations that took effect in February cut pachinko jackpot yields from 2,400 balls to 1,500 and pachislot jackpots by an identical 37.5% from 480 tokens to 300. FEATURE IN FOCUS Abe’s cabinet, include self-exclusion options and betting curbs on government-run horse, boat, motorcycle and bicycle racing. Polling has shown that the Japanese public continues to oppose casino legalization, with problem gambling a key concern. The pachinko and betting restrictions constitute Japanese authorities’ first explicit steps to address problem gambling, which they commonly call “gambling addiction.” IR supporters promise gambling addiction legislation ahead of the IR Implementation Bill, the final legislative step for casino legalization. The addiction bill, including government programs to promote recovery and encourage responsible play, has been introduced in the Diet but not enacted. A 2013 survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry estimated more than five million gambling addicts in Japan, well above global norms. ReNeA Japan CEO and founder Masa Suganuma, a former gaming machine executive, calls that “very silly information.” A more recent academic study puts the figure for pachinko far lower, at 900,000. BRIGHT LINE Pachinko industry participants and observers see motivations beyond problem gambling behind steps to curb pachinko. Amusement Japan Chief Editor Tsuyoshi Tanaka, who predicted years ago that regulators would target pachinko to set the stage for casinos, believes it’s about drawing a bright line between pachinko and casino gambling. Pachinko has a seedy reputation. The yakuza underworld once controlled prize exchanges, but they’ve been largely driven from the business, experts say. Parlor operations remain dominated by ethnic Koreans, 30% of them from North Korea, who gravitated to pachinko because many other Japanese business people shunned it. Pachinko also served for decades as a funding conduit to North PACHINKO BACKSTAGE P ARK GINZA showcases pachinko for the wider world. The 300 machine shop in Tokyo’s shopping district is non-smoking, has English and Mandarin speaking staff and P-Kun, a yellow mascot that could look at home on Sesame Street. At a machine amid the usual parlor din, players find hooks for coats, baskets for bags, phone charging slots, refrigerators available for perishables, wifi plus free water, green tea and, for germophobes, gloves. It is an atmosphere that attracts more females than pachinko’s usual overwhelmingly male clientele. Founded in 1984 by Chairman Masahide Shoji, P Ark has 38 parlors in Tokyo Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama with a company credo of “Fun for Life: Making Everyday Living More Fun.” Vice Chairman Takateru Shoji also serves as Chairman of pachinko trade association Japan Game-Associated Enterprises Corporation. Association rules, often echoing government edicts, prohibit players under 18, limit maximum spend to ¥400 per minute and prize values to ¥10,000. In-store advertising highlights help for problem gambling. P Ark offers traditional ¥4 pachinko (each ball costs ¥4), ¥1 pachinko – a 21st century addition to tempt new players – and ¥0.2 pachinko for those who just want to try the game, with different machines for each denomination. As in most parlors, pachislots Image by Aya Kudo