September 18, 2013

‘Tele-Casinos’ Fill The Gap As Japan Awaits Casino Legislation

The awarding of the 2020 Olympic Games to Tokyo may have boosted expectations that Japan is now a virtual lock to be the next Asian casino hotspot, but Credit Suisse gaming analyst Joel Simkins says hold the phone. In a recent note to investors, Simkins noted that similar talk had suggested Brazil would open up its casino market after Rio de Janeiro was awarded both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, yet that casino chicken has yet to hatch. As for Japan, Simkins cautioned that “managing developments for the games, as well as rolling out integrated resorts, would make for a very full plate, particularly for the various political parties.”

While waiting on Japan’s politicians to make up their minds, Japanese gamblers have few domestic options beyond pachinko. They have one less option following the recent bust of an illegal ‘tele-casino’ in Aichi Prefecture. The illegal gambling joint was located in an entertainment district in Nagoya and advertised as an internet café, but entry required membership and members had to pass through a maze of steel doors and security cameras to gain admittance. The owners required gamblers to register for membership using a mobile phone, and only a call placed from this phone would guarantee entry.

Once inside, gamblers sat themselves down at one of a dozen computers on which live-dealer casino feeds were beamed in from jurisdictions such as the Philippines and Costa Rica. According to a report in the Asahi Shinbun, the tele-casino operators purchased ‘points’ from these live-dealer operations for ¥50 (US 50¢) apiece, which they would then sell to gamblers for ¥100 a point.

Like pachinko, in which the players can usually find ways to redeem their little silver balls for cold hard cash instead of the prizes on display at the front counter, tele-casino gamblers could convert their points back into cash once they were finished gambling (assuming they had any points left). Regardless of an individual gambler’s fortune, the drinks and cigarettes are on the house, so banzai!

The Nagoya tele-casino manager said about 80% of his customers played baccarat due to its brisk pace. Most gamblers wagered only ‘several tens of thousands’ of yen a night, although a few high-rollers could burn through ¥1m ($10k) in a single sitting. The tele-casino reportedly netted a monthly profit of ¥5m until it was shut down. There are believed to be at least 60 such establishments in Aichi Prefecture.

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