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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.

Is sports betting legal in Japan?

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:

  • Horse racing

  • Cycling – particularly the keirin

  • Motorcycling

  • Motorboat racing

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.

What odds format is used in Japan?

Decimal odds

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.

Top sports in Japan

Baseball

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.

Japan sports betting FAQs

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