5% of Japanese adults addicted to gambling

A study carried out by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that nearly 5pc of adults in Japan are addicted to gambling, a rate five times that of most other nations. The information is reported at a pinnacle time when casino gaming legislation is under debate by the Japanese government.

Funded by the cabinet-level Ministry of the government, the study was led by Susumu Higuchi of the Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, the largest medical institution in Japan. Researchers found that approximately 5.36 million adults in Japan, equivalent to some 4.8pc of the adult population, are likely pathological gamblers who cannot risk the impulse to bet. 

Carried out amongst 7,000 Japanese adults nationwide from a cross-section of economic classes, it was deemed 4,153 responses were legitimate. Of these, the results showed 8.7pc of men and 1.8pc of women fit the international standard for problem gambling. The report compared with earlier studies in developed countries, including Canada (0.9pc in 2002) and France (1.24pc in 2008).

Participants were questioned about their gambling habits including betting on horse racing, pachinko and online casinos. They were asked if they had ever borrowed money to fund gambling activities and if they had been in an argument about their habit with family members. Although casinos are currently banned in Japan, the thirst for gambling amongst the local population is profound.

Pachinko, the pinball-like game similar to a slot machine, boasts more than 20 million regular enthusiasts spending close to ¥19 trillion ($US 187bn) a year. That’s around 4 times larger than gaming revenue in Macau, 15 times greater than Nevada gaming revenue, and more than the Japanese automobile industry. No wonder casino operators are ready to invest up to US$ 10bn in the country.
With blame placed on the century-old Pachinko industry for gambling addiction amongst Japanese citizens, researchers also noted the recent spread of mobile technology and increasing quality of digital content as proponents of IT addiction. The study found that 4.21 million adults showed signs of internet addiction, representing a 50pc increase over a study taken 5 years ago.

According to Higuchi, head of the study and recognised as the leading addiction expert in Japan, the research shows clear signs the younger generation are among the worst in the world in terms of addiction. “If something new becomes available, addition will only rise,” he said. Internet addiction of high school students has been a subject of great concern in the Japanese media, but addictions are considered a dishonour to family names and not discussed. 

The research team did not recommend whether casino gaming should be approved by Parliament, but activists in Japan continue to voice their opinions. Noriko Tanaka, head of campaign group ‘Society Concerned about Gambling Addiction,’ says Japanese people have insufficient information about problem gambling with “an absolute lack of preventive education for addiction.”

Tanaka said her group is not calling for a gambling ban in Japan, but requests education and support is more readily available for gambling addicts. She noted there are insufficient social resources in Japan, whereas there are open efforts to publically discuss the problem in the US and Europe. This can be attributed, in part, to the lack of industry, which could change with the introduction of casinos.

Based on the phenomenal size of the Pachinko industry, as well as legal gambling on horse racing, motor racing, various public lotteries and pools, analysts forecast a casino industry in Japan worth as much as $40bn in a few years. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is in favour of integrated resorts as part of the country’s growth strategy to boost tourism, regional economies and business.

Casino heavyweights such as Las Vegas Sands, MGM Resorts and Genting Group are already envisioning projects in Japan and have undertaken location scouting. Over 20 municipalities have requested to host facilities and local sources have suggested the first choices are Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, Okinawa, a popular resort destination, and Yokohama, a tourist destination south of Tokyo. 

Results of the study have been published at a time when it is expected casino legislation will pass both stages of the House to become law within the next few months. Proponents have indicated a regulatory framework and specific laws would be designed to minimise the risk of addiction, such as highly advanced identification-checking systems that would keep out problem gamblers.