How Popular is Online Poker in Japan?

Japan will become one of the largest land-based markets in Asia in the next months. Poker will not be responsible for this, but how popular is the pastime in Japan? The game of poker has not been historically popular in the country, even after Naoya Kihara was able to put the nation on the map in terms of poker after he won a World Series of Poker bracelet.

The city of Yokohama in Japan.

Gambling has a troubled history in Japan, which has made playing poker for money problematic for punters in the country. The plans to open new Integrated Resorts in cities such as Yokohama will see live gambling become more commonplace in the country. ©12019/Pixabay

The opening of new casinos in the country is due to begin soon. This will see the nation become host to what is estimated to be the third biggest land-based gambling market anywhere globally, coming in just behind Las Vegas and Macau, which occupy the first and second place, respectively. Whether this will correspond to a rise in poker in the country is unknown as yet.

Live Poker Regulations in Japan

Japan has had traditionally strict regulations relating to gambling, and in general, most forms of gambling have been illegal in the country for some time. The exceptions to this rule include Pachinko, lottery, and betting on horse racing. The Japanese penal code states that if individuals are found to be participating in or facilitating gambling of any illegal form, they are liable for prosecution from the state.

This is not to say that gambling is not a lucrative industry in the country, however. The forms of gambling that are legal in Japan generate nearly $400 billion in revenue each year. The Japanese government has recently begun to realize that the gambling market in the country is an untapped goldmine, which is why they have authorized the introduction of Integrated Resorts that combine resorts and gambling facilities.

For Japanese gamblers to play poker, they are forced to outsource their search for poker rooms online and abroad. This is because live poker rooms are illegal under Japanese law, and casinos will not be legalized in the immediate future. Those who enjoy playing poker live in the country can work around the strict regulations by playing for prizes such as services or commodities. This allows them to work around the concept of betting.

In the country, a game is considered to be gambling if it involves the exchange of money between players. There are even workarounds in large, organized poker tournaments in Japan, such as the Japanese Open Tour, those who excel are not rewarded with money. Instead, they are often gifted exclusive travel tours and accommodation at APPT events taking place in other countries in Asia.

The approach to gambling has begun to change in Japan over recent years, however. In 2016, the Japanese government introduced plans to remove the ban that was previously in place to prohibit the operations of casinos within its borders. In 2018, more progress was made as the government introduced its plans to implement the Integrated Resort bill that also reduced restrictions on poker games.

This bill made it a legal obligation for operators in Japan to guarantee fair treatment to the gamblers using their services. In order to achieve this, the bill stipulated that people who knew each other before entering the casino would not be allowed to sit at the same table, therefore, reducing the likelihood of cheating. To do this, in each poker room, it is the dealer’s job to decide which players should be allowed to join a particular game.

These Integrated Resorts will not open for some time yet, though, and they are still very much in their planning phase. When they do open, those operating the casinos will be required to charge locals that are visiting an entrance fee. This will not only provide the citizens in the region with a new type of entertainment when they open, but will create jobs and will bring tourists to the region the casino is established.

Live Poker in Japan

There is a good number of live poker games that are played in private in Japan. These are often frequented by foreigners rather than Japanese locals, however. In addition to this, there is also a distinct presence of underground poker casinos in the country. These are operated by groups such as the Yakuza and are illegal under Japanese laws. Those found in violation of these laws can face a hefty fine or even jail time!

The punishment for participating in illegal gambling gets worse the more times you are caught. For example, if you are caught two times being involved in such schemes, then you will be leveled with a $100,000 fine. If you can’t pay that, then you will be required to serve at least two years in jail.

As a result of these laws, all cash poker games are severely risky to play in the country. There has been a distinct rise in the number of games that are played for prizes in the country. For example, the rise in popularity of the Japanese Open Poker Tour and the All Japan Poker Championship has been impressive over recent years.

These have also set the standard for Japanese poker. If an operator wishes to put on a poker tournament, then the normal way to do this is to avoid giving money away as a prize to appease the regulators in Japan.

Online Poker in Japan

Technically, in Japan, it is illegal for players to participate in both live gambling and online gambling. There are no online casinos in Japan that are able to legally offer poker tournaments and games to consumers at present. This is due to the law passed in 1907 that prevents any operators from operating. This law covers both live gambling and online gambling, leaving Japanese nationals with no ability to own an online casino service within the country.

This being said, the laws in the country do not prevent gamblers in Japan from actually running online poker games. On top of this, the government in the nation does not prevent its citizens from accessing these sites due to the IP filtering firewalls that law enforcement would have to use to do this. As a result, in all its history, there is no example of a person in Japan from being prosecuted for using the services of an online poker casino.

There are other controls to prevent players from using the services of such online casinos, however. For example, most of the major banks in Japan block their customers from using their services to make withdrawals and deposits from these prohibited sites. Also, it is commonplace for online casinos that are run from other countries to block Japanese IP addresses from using their services.

Despite these controls, gamblers in Japan still manage to access online poker websites and can use e-wallets to process their transactions to the sites.

Overall, there are far more problems associated with live poker in Japan than there are with online poker. On top of this, it seems from recent occurrences that online poker’s progression is actually being promoted within the country even though the practice is relatively new. A prime example of this is the growing popularity of online poker tournaments in the country, that are much more common than one might think.

On top of this, the more renowned online poker sites are becoming more and more appealing to Japanese gamblers. From this, it is expected that the Japanese online gambling sector will grow exponentially during the coming years, and the opening of Integrated Resorts in the country will no doubt help to normalize gambling more in Japan.

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A person looking at their hole cards in a poker game.

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