Japan online sports betting laws
Japan may love sports and boast the third biggest economy in the world but its online betting is extremely limited – for now. There are suggestions that this situation might change in the coming years, with moves that would herald an enormous opportunity for sportsbooks and bettors.
Traditionally, gambling is an activity that has been frowned upon in Japanese society. Most forms of wagering are banned by chapter 23 of the nation’s Criminal Code, and there are very few exceptions.
There are only four sports that people in Japan are allowed to bet on:
Cycling – particularly the keirin
Despite this being a heavily restricted marketplace, revenues from betting on all four totaled $55 billion in 2019. It is only in recent years that betting on these four sports could take place online. Most of the turnover comes from wagering at the numerous kiosks around the country licensed to take bets, which are in pari-mutuel or pool format. However, the impact of Covid-19 on the country’s economy and on its sporting landscape, in particular, has led to suggestions that a revolutionary change could be on the way. Specifically, this could mean the legalization of betting on two sports that enjoy absolutely gigantic levels of popularity in Japan: baseball and soccer.
Influential figures in Japan have noted the growing popularity of online wagering, especially during the Covid-19 crisis. Unlicensed offshore sportsbooks offer their services to customers in Japan – and the number of monthly visits to the most visited site jumped from 650,000 in December 2018 to 77.5 million at the height of the pandemic. In Japan, baseball is arguably the most popular sport, with soccer not far behind, and it’s been estimated that legalizing betting on both could create a market worth $65billion a year – more than double the current legal scene. Recent Japanese governments have shown a liberal attitude towards gambling in general, with the first casinos scheduled to open in the country in the near future.
As things stand, the huge number of people who want to enjoy online sports betting on these popular sports in Japan can do so only through the international operators. These are not, strictly speaking, illegal – and many of them are extremely well regarded and trusted names with excellent reputations. Nevertheless, betting with an unlicensed sportsbook always carries a certain degree of risk in a territory where gambling is not generally legal.
Decimal odds are the format used in most territories around the world where gambling takes place. This is almost certainly the simplest way of expressing the probability of a particular outcome, and is used virtually everywhere except in North America and the UK and Ireland.
Let’s say you have made your selection for the big horse race of the year, the Japan Cup. Its odds might be expressed on the screens at Tokyo Racecourse – or online when the estimated winning dividend is shown as 3.5. That means your stake will be multiplied by that figure if your selection wins – a $10 bet will deliver $35 in winnings. The same bet in fractional odds would be expressed as 5/2. You would receive the same return but fractional odds do not include your stake.
In American moneyline odds, your wager would be shown as +250. Every $100 staked wins you $250, and you get your stake returned.
In Japan, baseball is enormous. It is almost certainly the most popular sport in the country. Huge numbers of fans follow Major League action in the United States , where several Japanese players have enjoyed illustrious careers. The Japanese baseball league (NPB) is also well established, with a huge fanbase in the country. The sport is virtually identical to American baseball but there are a few differences. The baseball itself is slightly smaller, as is the strike zone and the playing field. Also, games can end in a tie if the teams are still level after three extra innings following the standard nine. If betting becomes legal on Japan baseball, the market is guaranteed to be massive.
In Japan, soccer has become increasingly big in recent decades and is now close to being the most popular sport in Japan, especially for younger generations. Several factors have contributed to this rise, including the launch of the J-League in 1993, the first fully professional Japan soccer league. The co-staging of the FIFA World Cup in 2002 gave the sport a significant boost, as did the exploits of various individual players in some of the top leagues in the world. The increased profile of competitions like England’s Premier League, with their large numbers of fans in the country, has also been significant. If betting on soccer is legalized in Japan, it is certain to generate enormous interest among fans of the world’s most popular sport.
For all the modern popularity of soccer and baseball, Japan still views sumo wresting as its national sport. Japan is the cradle of sumo, which dates back well over 1,000 years, and it is the only country with professional competition The lives of sumo wrestlers are extremely regimented and the competitions themselves are highly ritualized. Sumo bouts themselves tend to be short-lived affairs – the simple aim is to push your opponent out of the ring, or dojo. Sumo is still popular with the older generations, but that may be changing as Japan continues to embrace baseball and soccer.
Rugby union has been growing steadily in popularity over recent decades, but one victory by the Cherry Blossoms, the national side, propelled the sport to the center of the nation’s consciousness. When Japan beat South Africa, who by then had been world champions twice, in their opening pool match of the 2015 World Cup in England, it caused a huge stir back home and rugby has been big news since. Four years on, Japan staged the World Cup and did an extremely good job of it, with matches attracting large numbers of spectators. It would be interesting to see how much betting interest there would be in rugby should the activity ever be legalized.
Cycling – and specifically the keirin – attracts huge attention in Japan, not least because it is one of only four sports that people are allowed to bet on. The name keirin is itself Japanese and literally translates as “racing cycle”. Competitors are paced for several laps by a motorized bike that gradually increases the tempo before pulling off the track to leave the riders to fight out the finish over a final sprint. With 43 velodromes across Japan, there is plenty of action for spectators and gamblers to enjoy – and the amounts staked on the sport runs into billions of yen.
Yes, but it is currently strictly limited. There are only four sports – horse racing, cycling, motorcycling and motorboat racing – on which people are allowed legally to place bets. As a result, many sports fans in Japan place bets with offshore websites. But there are suggestions that betting on baseball and soccer could be legalized, possibly as soon as 2024.
Yes. In Japan, baseball is incredibly popular. Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), the Japanese baseball league, attracts huge interest, while the exploits of players such as Ichiro Suzuki, an all-star ten years running in the Major Leagues while playing with the Seattle Mariners, raised the profile of the sport significantly in his home country.
For those who watch the sport in Japan, baseball is very similar to the game played in the United States. For instance, each side has nine innings to score as many runs as possible. However, unlike in the US, games can finish tied. If the scores are level after nine innings, there is a limit of three more innings each to break the deadlock.
Sumo wrestling was invented in Japan and this remains the only nation in the world where there are professional athletes in the sport. Sumo is still seen as the national sport, though among younger generations in Japan, baseball and soccer are very popular. As at September 2020, there were a total of 683 sumo wrestlers competing professionally.
The Japan baseball season follows closely the timetable of the Major Leagues in the United States. Games begin in April, and each team plays 144 games (compared to the 162 in the US), with the season culminating in a championship, called the Japan Series, which takes place in October each year.
Among older generations, sumo wrestling still holds the title of the national sport of Japan and is the most popular sport here. However, for increasing numbers of younger people in Japan, baseball is seen as the most popular sport while soccer, with its high global profile, also attracts plenty of followers.