Sunday, July 02, 2006


A few weeks ago I came across this article about Japan as a gambling market, particularly online. There are some interesting points in it, definitely food for thought.

With the most slot-machine-like gaming devices of any country in the world, Japan is a huge and growing market. Brian Gordon, a partner in the Las Vegas-based financial consulting company Applied Analysis, said Japan has to be seen as a huge opportunity if only because of the size of the market and turnover in slotlike gaming devices.

Already, there are 5 million devices in Japan, compared with 830 000 in the United States, 240 000 in Russia and 200 000 in Australia, a recent Deutsche Bank study of Japan found.

That certainly catches my attention. Five million slot machines. More than five times the number in the United States.

Of course, they're talking about "slotlike gaming devices", which are both straight slot machines (which payout in gaming tokens, not cash), and pachi-slot machines, which are pachinko machines with a video display in the center than plays a video slot machine. Do well with the pachinko play and you kick off spins of the video slot machine for bonus payouts of pachinko balls.

A lot of current pachinko machines, maybe more than half, are pachi-slot machines. There are also a lot of straight slot machines too - usually the first floor of a typical parlor is pachinko and pachi-slot machines, and the second floor (often smaller than the first floor) is slot machines and other medal games. Often they'll have a section for the computerized horse racing games.

Most pachinko parlors open at 10am or so. Walk by them at 9:30am, and you will see a line of people waiting to get in. The one in the same building as my gym sets out rows of folding chairs in front of the main entrance so folks can sit and wait more comfortably for opening time. I've often seen 40 or 50 people are patiently sitting, reading sports and horse-racing newspapers, waiting for the doors to open so they can get inside and get at those pachinko machines.

Recently they released a new themed pachinko machine based on "Winter Sonata", a wildly popular Korean tv drama, especially among middle aged Japanese women. The machines had a video screen and apparently doing well would kick off video segments of key scenes from the show. Opening day for these machines was all over most tv news shows that evening. Lines for the machines were an hour or more long. Most of those waiting were middle aged Japanese women. (This show ran and finished something like five years ago.)

Okay, okay, so Japanese love their pachinko. And their pachi-slots. Does that mean they'll become serious slot machine players for real money? It wouldn't surprise me.

What if the casinos cut out the middleman and set up pachinko and pachislot machines that pay out directly in cash? Would that fly? I don't know - many Japanese say they play pachinko for relaxation and stress relief. Their neighborhood parlor is fine for that - would they travel across town to play for cash at a casino? I am skeptical.

Pachinko parlors are also noisy and chaotic in a different way than the noisy chaos of a casino. The atmospheres may not mix well.

Still, lots of Japanese play the gaming-token-only slot machines and medal games, and they'd probably transition over well to slots for cash.

In addition to the potential in the existing market, moves are afoot in Japan to legalise Las Vegas-style casino gambling.

Given strong operator interest in Asian gaming, Falcone said the opening of Japan should seriously interest U.S. operators, including Harrah's Entertainment, MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd.

That would be nice. I wonder if my MGM Player's card will work at MGM Tokyo?


Born said...

Very nice articles about Japan gambling. Never been in Japan unfortunately but like pachinko game too. It is very interesting game, really. I can understand Japanese, I mean pachinko fans. I never played it for real, with real players, game-table or even slots somewhere in parlor but I'm playing online, here in the internet.
You can try it for example at
I'm sure, you'll love this game too :)
Japan - it is my dream :)

James said...

You can play pachinko online? That is news to me. I barely understand why people would play it live, so playing it online is beyond me.