Japan is already working non-stop to bring integrated resorts (IR) and casinos to life, but the country might be considering other forms of gambling, as well. As the popularity of pachinko, virtually the only type of gaming activity allowed, continues to wane in the country, there are plenty of alternatives to create new enterprises and boost revenue. It seems that one of these could be sports gambling, with talk surfacing that Japanese lawmakers are seriously debating whether or not the activity should be legalized. If it were, some estimates put the market at a value of around $65 billion.
Japan Warms up to the Gambling Industry
Introducing IRs to the Japanese landscape has been a contentious subject, but one that continues to advance, albeit somewhat slower than expected. The first three locations for casino resorts could be chosen by the summer of next year, with those properties possibly opening by 2027-2028, around four years later than previously hoped. Still, progress is being made and Japanese legislators might be ready to bring sports gambling into the fray, as well. The Financial Times reports that, according to its sources with “direct knowledge of the situation,” there have been internal discussions to legalize sports gambling on soccer and baseball.
There is already limited sports gambling in the country, by way of a pool-style lottery for soccer. The recent discussions would reportedly expand on that option and bring sports gambling on the Nippon Professional League, the country’s version of MLB, into the mix, as well. There haven’t been any details provided on how the sports gambling market would be structured since only preliminary discussions are being conducted, but, given the thoroughness with which lawmakers are addressing casino gambling, strict and detailed regulations are likely to come.
Billions of Dollars at Stake
Japan currently allows limited gambling on four activities – boat, motorcycle, bicycle and horseracing competitions. However, these four were enough to produce $55 billion in revenue in 2019, led by the popularity of horseracing. Pachinko, which still commands a large part of the gambling market, is worth around $200 billion a year now, but has rapidly lost a lot of its appeal. By expanding into other areas of sports wagering, Japan is poised to capture billions of dollars more in revenue. According to some estimates, as much as $40 billion is currently being spent through illicit or offshore sportsbooks.
Should lawmakers come up with a viable solution, sports leagues won’t put up any resistance. Whereas the NFL, NBA and others tried desperately to keep sports gambling out of the US, Japan’s major sports leagues have been trying for years to convince legislators that legalized sports gambling made sense. With COVID-19 taking its toll on the national economy, just as it has done elsewhere around the world, Japan could be more willing to embrace sportsbooks to offset the losses. If so, it’s possible that legalized sports gambling could come to the country by 2024. Next, lawmakers need to be convinced that online gambling is a smart move before it’s too late.