The Japanese government on Thursday officially approved plans to build a new casino in Osaka as part of a wider resort complex — despite gambling currently being illegal in that capacity.

The new complex set to open in 2029 will include the country’s first ever casino and is expected to cost at least 1 trillion yen, or about 6 billion pounds to complete. It is expected “to help the development of the region as well as the growth of Japan” according to Japanese prime minister Kishida Fumio. 

The plans for such a resort with integrated casinos have long been in the works in cities such as Osaka but also on the man-made island of Odaiba in Tokyo as well as nearby Yokohama. However, there has been fierce opposition to casinos both previously and to the current plans mostly related to the prospect of gambling addiction. 

The new resort featuring hotels, conference rooms, and a shopping centre — alongside a casino — will be built upon another man-made island off of the city. However, extensive work will be needed even before the project begins as well as pass through other legal obstacles such as licensing and satisfying the recently established Casino administration committee.

The project is currently being backed by world-renown casino operator MGM as well as Japan’s own Orix group who will each hold a 40% share in the endeavour. The remaining 20% will be in the hands of other local companies. 

Current gambling in Japan

Currently most forms of gambling are illegal in Japan with the exception of the Japanese national lottery called ‘Takarakuji’ and some sports events. 

At present, the game known as ‘Pachinko’ is the closest thing the Japanese have to casino-esque gambling which — broadly speaking — resembles a slot-machine but plays similar to pinball. These can be found mostly in dedicated ‘Pachinko parlours’.

The thing with Pachinko, as well as anything similar, is that you cannot play to win money. Currently that would count as gambling and thereby illegal. Instead there is a loophole where as long as you cannot exchange points and winnings in the same building as the pachinko machines then it’s not illegal — which has come to be the norm.

For example: You play Pachinko in one building, rack up a lot of points and then get up and immediately leave. You then take a five minute walk down the road to a seemingly entirely unrelated premises where you can present your points slip etc. to another person who exchanges it for gifts or money. 

This is — for the most part — the current gambling scene in Japan.