Monday, April 23, 2007

More good signs

Found another couple of encouraging news articles recently on Japan opening up to casino gambling. Here's an AFP Article I found in a couple of places, but this seems to be the last place that has it still up.

The world's top casino operators are jockeying for a take in a vast but untapped market as Japan moves closer to an overhaul of its strict gambling laws to lure rich Asian tourists and boost its economy.

Japan would be a latecomer to a gambling boom across the region, which is looking to Las Vegas-style super casinos to entice more tourists, with two huge complexes springing up in Singapore to take on the Chinese enclave of Macau.


Almost half of the lower house of parliament -- including some opposition lawmakers -- supports the general idea of legalising casinos, said Toru Mihara, adviser to the LDP's casino study group.

"If we can create legal structures within one or two years to come, maybe in 2012 casinos in Japan will start to operate," he told AFP in an interview.

2012? That's five years from now! I mean, I'll take it, but I was hoping for something sooner. Can't you guys, you know, pass the law and then set up some converted warehouse casino for us degenerate gamblers for a year or two while they build the Wynn Tokyo? We're not that picky.

This article, however, paints a brighter picture.

Driven by fiercer regulation and a consumer credit crunch that has directly hit pachinko’s heaviest players, key segments of the industry are expected to contract by as much as 50 per cent over the next two years. Industry experts forecast that about a third of Japan’s 15,000 pachinko parlours — deafeningly loud, smoke-filled caverns where customers lose themselves for hours — may close.

But the imminent pachinko crisis will “vastly accelerate” plans by the Japanese Government to legalise casinos, one of the industry’s leading figures told The Times. To compete with Macau and other Asian cities where casino gaming is set for astronomic growth, Tokyo and other big Japanese cities may have their first Las Vegas-style casinos within three years.

Three years! Now we're talking!

I don't play pachinko, I don't get pachinko, so I don't know the market. But I doubt that hard core pachinko players are just going to up and quit the game because some of the big jackpot machines are outlawed. Likewise, pachinko operators and game manufacturers aren't going to just go, "oh well, guess we can't make those machines anymore. We'll go back to the old lower-payout machines and lose our customers." People can be very creative when they're trying to find a new way to separate you from your money. I don't know what they'll do, but I'm sure they'll do something to keep pachinko players relatively happy and spending their idle hours firing ball bearings up and watching them drop, hoping to make some money off of it.

The guy who made the quote is the head of Aruze, and a partner with Steve Wynn, so he stands to make a ton of money opening a casino here and filling it with his gambling machines. So he's not the most unbiased observer of the market. But I'll still be happy to see him right.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Japan Casinos (Revisited)

Nearly a year ago, I posted about the Japanese government investigating opening casino-style gambling in Japan. What's up with that?

Hell if I know. I haven't heard squat.

The investigatory committee came back and presented their report which apparently said about what everyone knew it would. Casino gambling would bring in a lot of visitors and tax dollars, and also help supporting businesses. But there were concerns about rises in crime in those areas, as well as possible involvement of organized crime groups.

Since then? Nothing.

Well, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for the Japanese government to make a quick decision. On this issue or any issue. There could also be serious opposition to casino gambling behind the scenes by those companies that could stand to lose business to casino gambling - pachinko parlors and race tracks. I don't know about the tracks, but everyone assumes the pachinko business is controlled by the yakuza, so they might not be too keen on seeing casinos opened up if they can't get a share.

I just hope that eventually (sooner would be better than later), someone will decide to actually press the issue forward. Maybe after the Macau casinos continue to rake in money hand over fist. Maybe after the Chinese government reports on the extra billions of dollars they've added to their budgets from the casinos. Eventually will someone look at this and say, "Hey... we should get in on this."

The casino companies are also continuing to lobby, hoping to expand even further into Asia. Japan has a strong economy and they can spend money with the best of them when they get in the mood. Macau is still a bit too far away for all but the most serious of gamblers - at that distance, you might as well spend an extra couple hours on the plane and just head to Vegas.

Las Vegas Sands is lobbying to open casinos in Japan, I found in this article.

Las Vegas Sands is lobbying to introduce casinos in Japan and is mulling a development along the Mediterranean Sea, he says. ``I'd like to do another Las Vegas in Europe,'' he says, adding that it needs to be in a warm climate. ``We'll look aggressively for opportunities.''

"He" is Sheldon Adelson, and if he's successful in getting Japan to open up to casino gambling, he'll be my new best friend. I'd love to visit the Venetian in Tokyo. I wonder if my point card would work?

The MGM would also not want to be left out, according to this article. (Unfortunately it's not dated and it could be pretty old.)

According the MGM, they are not looking to stop at just two casino projects, especially if Japan passes its pro-gambling legislation. The revenue which Macau generated from its casinos already surpassed that of Las Vegas and it is turning to the most desirable place in the world for building a casino.

What about Steve Wynn? If Sheldon's trying to get into Japan, I'd have thought he'd be jostling with him for the chance to get in there first. It doesn't seem so in this article.

Wynn also noted that he and Japanese gaming device maker Kazuo Okada had agreed that neither would sell his shares without written consent from the other, and that each would have the first right to buy shares if the other wants to sell.

Each owns about 24 percent of Wynn Resorts shares, and each will make about $147 million from a special $6 per share distribution the company announced last week.

I expect Wynn to use the distribution to increase his stake in the company and take the combined Wynn-Okada ownership stake above 50 percent.

Wynn also said he had recently been approached by Australian publishing and gaming executive James Packer about possible Asian development opportunities. When I asked Wynn whether those opportunities might be in Japan, Wynn had a ready answer.

"No, I already have the best possible partner in Japan," he said, referring, of course, to Okada.

Actually, on rereading that, it reads like Wynn would of course stick with his current partners in Japan for any new casino deals, instead of taking on a new partner from Australia. Makes sense.

Anyhow, I just hope they get on with it. Let the casino companies in and start building up Odaiba to be the Macau of Japan, or else decide that they're going to stick with the current anti-gambling stance. At least then I could relax about it. This waiting is killing me.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Japan Poker League

Tokyo-ites now have a new place to play poker. Quite a few, in fact!

Recently a new group called the Japan Poker League has begun a series of public poker games, running in bars and clubs all over Tokyo. All the main areas are covered - Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roppongi, Ginza, even one joint up in Saitama and two down in Kanagawa.

Suddenly there's a huge number of games to play in. Looking at the April schedule, there are 3 or 4 games planned each week for the rest of the month. The May schedule doesn't seem to be fixed yet, but I expect it will be similar.

I believe the group is related to the JPPA - the web site seems to be running on similar software and there were several familiar faces from the JPPA at the JPL game I attended, including some of the dealers.

The League games also run on a point system. Winners of each game accrue points based on the number of entrants. A full league's season is broken down into several "heats" of about 1.5 months each. At the end of each heat is a Championship game, where each point earned is worth one starting chip. So frequent winning players will begin with larger stacks than occasional players.

At the end of the year is a final Playoff game, scheduled for Nov 25. Again, points gathered during the season will be converted to chips to be used in the final playoff tournament. The grand prize for the winner is, last I heard, a travel and entry package into the PokerStars Carribbean Adventure. Not bad at all!

I went to check it out last Tuesday night. The Tuesday game was running in a bar in the dodgy Kabukicho area of Shinjuku, at an Irish bar called Pub Angel. I hurried there after work and barely made the 7pm start time. The bar was somewhat long and narrow, and two poker tables were wedged into one end. I paid my 2000yen entry fee, which included a free drink coupon, filled out the JPL registration form, and squeezed my way in. 17 players had signed up, so the two tables were pretty tight.

I recognized Shin-san, to my right, from the JPPA games, and saw a few other JPPA regulars as well. But many of the other players were new to me. Most were young, appearing about college-student age or recent graduates. This is a good sign - if poker takes hold with younger players who bring their friends in, it could really take off here. There were also several native English speakers there, who may also have been students themselves.

The games are set up to run quickly, since they need to finish in a couple hours. Blinds increased every ten minutes or so. Players could also rebuy for an additional 1000yen up to level 6 if they lost all their chips.

Frankly, I don't like the structure. Like a super-turbo tournament, everyone almost immediately became a small stack. With easy rebuys for the first hour too, it very quickly became a game of pushing in with marginal hands, calling with marginal hands, and rebuying if you busted. There was no post-flop play that I can recall after about the first 15 minutes. But since they appear to be targeting new players and beginners, this does keep the game simpler and perhaps more fun for those new to the game.

Given the crap-shoot nature of the game, players will have to attend often and regularly to try to accumulate their points for the main prize. At 2000yen (plus rebuys) a game, it could get expensive.

Links to the participating bars and clubs are included on the JPL web page. Here is a sample:

Pub Angel - Shinjuku
CoZmo's Cafe & Bar - Shibuya
Public House Briongloid - Yotsuya
Dogenzaka Cafe Lagoon - Shibuya
Lounge PHI - Ginza
alife - Roppongi
JB's Bar - Jinbocho
Cafe & Dining Bar BRIDGE - Iidabashi
Ale House - Ikebukuro
Diego Cafe - Shibuya

The schedule for each venue does not appear to be fixed. Check the JPL web page for a schedule of upcoming games and venues.

Monday, April 09, 2007

On The Rise

There was an amusing thread on the 2+2 forums a while back about prospects for poker's growth in Asia. There were some interesting comments about how likely it was for poker to catch on in Japan and other asian countries. One that stood out to me was a guy who wrote, "Whoa, you don't want Japanese guys to get into poker. Remember how you thought you were hot shit at Tekken until you went up against that 12 year old Japanese kid? Haven't you seen how the Japanese players have kicked butt at every online game they've got involved in? And you want them to take up poker? No thanks!"

He might have been overstating things. But I was pretty sure we'd see some strong Japanese players appear on the scene if the game started to get a following.

Maybe like Masa-san, Masaaki Kagawa, who bought into that $100,000 tourney at the Aussie Millions, fought it out with 17 high-stakes players like Negreanu, Ivey, and Lindgren, and took 3rd? Masa also hit several of the recent European Poker Tour events in Germany, making the money in at least one event and getting some attention, along with JPPA head Hiroshi Shimamura, from Pokerstars' tournament coverage.

Masa's getting tv time now - he might be Japan's first poker celebrity.

Today the excited news came around that another Japanese player, Moto-san, just took first place in the $1500 NLHE event at the Five Diamond at the Bellagio. Motoyuki Mabuchi scores for $274,950 with this win. Whoa.

(Unfortunately, as a foreigner Moto-san will probably see about half of that amount withheld for taxes by the Bellagio and the IRS. Hopefully he'll get a good chunk of that back but who knows how much paperwork he'll have to suffer through.)

I'm not sure if I've ever played with Moto-san at Duke or the JPPA. I'm pretty sure I have never played with Masa-san. He plays very high stakes, and I don't think the public for-points games at the JPPA would do it for him.

Still, it's a thrill to see some Japanese players making some big wins and gathering attention. There'll be a core of Japanese players at the WSOP this year, and more next year. The next Japanese player that ESPN features won't be an aging idol girl, barely knowing how to play, who got in as a publicity stunt.

Friday, April 06, 2007


Japanese convenience stores are great. Often you'll find things for sale there that you would never have expected.

The other night on the way home from work, I stopped by the Circle-K. In their tiny section of plastic models, most of which are priced around 300yen for impulse purchases, they had a 1/6 scale series of bazookas.

The series name is "Bazooka Meikan", where meikan translates to something like "directory". Maybe "catalog" would work too.

Me, I'd probably name the series "Great Bazookas Of History". But they didn't call me back for that series-naming job.

I bought one. I had to! It was only 500yen!

I got the M136 AT-4. Apparently it's an American model in use since 1985. I have to take their word for it, since I'm not up on my knowledge of world bazookas. Looks pretty cool, though. Going to take it to work today.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Monthly Update

My god, I made no posts in March? That's pretty sad.

Unfortunately I think updates will continue to be sparse. I'll try to flesh out some more details about the live public games in Tokyo as I get more time and information about them.

It's not going to be an easy task, though, since I've been finding out that there are more and more places holding tournaments in Tokyo, mostly bars and clubs. Both the JPPA and JPEA have apparently been talking and spreading poker interest, and there are games springing up all over the place, it seems. I really should have been paying more attention and talking more with some of the regulars to keep on top of these things.

It's a good sign, and very encouraging since I was really hoping that poker would take hold and build up a following in Japan. It's still very much in early days, but it does seem like the seed has budded and is sending out some tentative roots.

My personal life is busy and will be getting busier. I've also started a diet and workout program recently, and have begun studyin some books on stock trading and technical analysis, and plan to learn and study more about the stock markets in hopes of making some real money with it someday. As with poker, I have no plans to quit my day job anytime soon, but it would be nice to have an alternative to office life and working for the Man. Now I find I have another dozen or more live games going on in Tokyo, which I need to go check out for my Live Public Poker Games in Tokyo master list project I foolishly started. What's going to give?

Online poker, that's what. I cashed out my accounts. If I feel the irresistible urge to play, there's always play money. I told myself that if (when!) I make my weight and body fat goals, I'll reward myself by giving me an online bankroll again. Although phrased like that, it sounds more like rescinding a punishment. Whatever - stick or carrot, works for me.

Part of it is because I felt online poker sucking up free time, and because it's so easy to play it would expand to fill up whatever time gaps I had. But I sit and stare at a computer screen enough hours of my day already. Better to do something else, anything else with that time. Like hit the gym, or study market forces, or even read non-poker books.

The other part of it was because I was playing like crap and losing my money with stupid calls. I was in a rut online, and needed to do something to get out. So I quit.

I still love the live play, though, so at least once a week I want to get out and visit a live game somewhere in Tokyo. Maybe I'll ride my bike to each location and get some exercise in the process, even. Slowly I'll work on my Master List and get some good poker practice in as well.

No WSOP for me this year. Too much going on and I've been to Vegas too many times already. But next year I am all over it!

More to come. But don't hold your breath.