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Does Japan have slot machines?

Slot machines, also known as pachinko or pachislot, are a form of gambling entertainment that is very popular in Japan. While casinos are still illegal in most parts of Japan, slot machines operate in a legal gray area and can be found all over the country.

The History of Slot Machines in Japan

Slot machines were first introduced to Japan in the 1960s. They quickly became popular, providing an entertainment option that skirted the country’s strict anti-gambling laws. The first slot machines were very basic mechanical games, but they evolved over time to become more advanced digital machines.

In the 1980s, pachinko reached the height of its popularity, with thousands of parlors opening around Japan. Pachinko revenue exceeded $200 billion a year, accounting for almost 4% of Japan’s GDP. The game attracted players of all ages and backgrounds.

In the 1990s, slot machines started to replace traditional pachinko as the most popular gambling pastime. Newer digital slot machines, known as pachislot, offered more exciting features and better odds. By the early 2000s, revenues from pachislot had eclipsed pachinko.

The Japanese government has attempted to regulate the industry at various points. In the 1960s, limits were placed on the number of pachinko parlors that could operate. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were efforts to control extreme gambling addiction. Despite periodic government crackdowns, the overall slot machine business has continued to thrive.

Are Slot Machines Legal in Japan?

Slot machines exist in a legal gray zone in Japan. Gambling is restricted under Japan’s criminal code, but pachinko and pachislot get around these laws because they do not directly pay out cash prizes.

Here is how the system works: Players win small steel balls by playing the slots, which they can then exchange for prizes like cigarettes or other items. They take these prizes to a separate establishment to be exchanged for cash. This complex system allows parlors to skirt anti-gambling laws.

The police tolerate pachinko and generally do not try to shut down parlors. Gambling on pachinko and pachislot is widespread, popular and conducted openly throughout Japan.

Attempts to Legalize Casinos

In recent years, the Japanese government has debated legalizing casinos to boost tourism. A law passed in 2016 allowed for the construction of integrated resorts (IRs) with casinos. So far, very few have been built.

Japan remains one of the largest untapped casino markets in the world. The government sees the potential for increased tax revenue and tourism. However, there is also public opposition to allowing casino gambling, so progress has been slow.

Where to Find Slot Machines in Japan

Slot machines can be found all over Japan, but they are especially concentrated in amusement districts like Tokyo’s Kabukicho and Osaka’s Namba. Large pachinko parlors typically have hundreds of machines as well as other types of games like video poker.

Here are some of the most popular places to find slot machines in Japan:

  • Amusement arcades
  • Pachinko/pachislot parlors
  • Department stores
  • Train stations
  • Hotels and resorts
  • Bars and nightclubs
  • Soaplands

Slot machines can easily be found within a short walk in most Japanese cities. If you walk through an entertainment district, you will inevitably come across colorful flashing machines set up for play.

Most Popular Gambling Cities

While pachinko parlors are ubiquitous, some Japanese cities have more slot machines than others. Here are some of the most popular gambling destinations:

City # of pachinko parlors
Tokyo Over 800
Osaka Around 500
Nagoya Around 300
Sapporo Around 200
Fukuoka Around 150

As you can see, Tokyo has by far the most pachinko parlors, followed by Osaka and Nagoya. Fukuoka, while smaller, also has a very vibrant pachinko scene. Of course, slot machines can be found in virtually every city, but these urban areas have the highest concentrations.

What Kinds of Slot Machines are in Japan?

There are two main types of slot machines in Japan – traditional pachinko and digital pachislot. Here is an overview:


Pachinko machines resemble vertical pinball combined with a slot machine. The player launches small steel balls into the machine, aiming for certain areas that determine the payout. If the balls land in the right places, the player receives more balls to play with.

Modern pachinko machines have evolved to include digital screens and more arcade-like features. However, gameplay still revolves around shooting balls into the machine.


Pachislot machines look and play like traditional digital slot machines found in Las Vegas. The main difference is that they incorporate skill-based elements from pachinko. Players have to take active roles in gameplay through pressing buttons or hitting levers at certain times.

Pachislot machines have advanced graphics and sound that make playing more exciting. Popular machines are based on anime, TV shows, or video games. This digital format has made them more popular than old-school pachinko.

Slot Machine Gambling Culture and Demographics

Slot machine gambling is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. It is both a mainstream leisure activity as well as associated with the country’s extensive organized crime networks – the yakuza. Let’s look at some cultural factors:

Popularity Across Demographics

Pachinko and pachislot appeal to Japanese gamblers across age groups and income levels. It is common to see elderly people playing machines in parlors alongside young adults. The games require little skill and offer the excitement of potential big payouts.

Businessmen often visit parlors during work breaks or after jobs to unwind. For many, it is a routine part of the day on par with visiting bars or restaurants.

Links to Organized Crime

The pachinko industry has historical ties to organized crime in Japan. Yakuza groups invested heavily in parlors when they first emerged in the mid-1900s. They saw it as a way to generate revenue beyond traditional criminal activities.

While the direct yakuza role has faded over time, gangs still maintain ties to some parlors and profit from the gambling economy. This gives pachinko an edgy, rebellious image in popular culture.

Quest for the Big Payout

Pachinko and pachislot enable players to win big payouts, sometimes up to ¥10 million ($100,000 USD). Players are constantly in search of rumored “hot” machines that are due for jackpots.

This quest fuels gambling addiction issues in Japan. However, the general public does not perceive the games as dangerous. Celebrities openly endorse pachinko brands without facing scrutiny.

Regulation and Controversy

The legality of slot machines is controversial in Japan. On one hand, pachinko parlors provide entertainment and jobs for many. On the other hand, gambling addiction and links to organized crime are downsides.

The government occasionally attempts to impose new regulations, but public backlash forces a return to the status quo. For now, the games continue operating in their legal gray zone.

Are Slots Popular with Tourists?

Slot machine gambling is not as popular with foreign tourists as other Japanese pastimes like karaoke or anime. Most tourists who visit pachinko parlors are curious to experience a uniquely Japanese phenomenon.

Here are some factors that limit slot popularity among tourists:

  • Language barriers – Few parlors have English menus or instructions
  • Smoking – Most parlors allow smoking, which deters many visitors
  • Complex rules – Pachinko/pachislot have complicated rules that take time to learn
  • Cash exchange process – Exchanging prizes for cash is inconvenient for short-term tourists

That said, visiting a pachinko parlor can be an interesting cultural experience. Some tourists enjoy testing their luck and playing alongside locals. With smoking bans gradually taking effect, parlors may attract more visitors in the future.

Addiction and Problem Gambling

Gambling addiction is a serious social issue associated with pachinko and slot machines in Japan. Critics argue the machines are dangerously addictive and promote unhealthy gambling habits.

Here are some key facts about slot machine addiction in Japan:

  • Around 4-5% of Japanese adults are estimated to be addicted
  • Japan has the highest prevalence of adult gambling addiction in the world
  • Approximately 300,000 Japanese people seek treatment each year for gambling addiction or related problems
  • Pachinko/pachislot spending is often cited in divorce cases
  • Government studies show addicts spend on average $220 per week on slots

Experts blame the convenience and ubiquity of pachinko parlors for enabling excessive play. Some critics argue Japan has a “gambling culture” that does not adequately discourage unhealthy behavior.

However, there is little political momentum for increased regulation. Many government officials have close ties to the pachinko industry.

Warning Signs of Addiction

Japanese slot players exhibit classic signs of gambling addiction, including:

  • Spending increasing time and money on slots
  • Jeopardizing relationships and responsibilities to play
  • Chasing losses, i.e. playing more to try to win back losses
  • Feeling restless or irritable when not playing
  • Borrowing money or lying to conceal gambling

Addicts may play for days on end without eating or sleeping properly. Their sole focus becomes hitting the next big payout. This can quickly ruin finances, health and personal life.

Trends and Future Outlook

After dominating Japan’s gambling sector for decades, pachinko and pachislot now face a challenging future. Revenues have declined due to an aging population, regulatory restrictions and competition from entertainment options.

Here are some trends that indicate where slot machine gambling may be headed in Japan:

  • Smoking bans in major cities like Tokyo are hurting parlors
  • Casinos and integrated resorts could pull gamblers away
  • Arcades offer more exciting entertainment through video games
  • Online and mobile gambling provides convenience
  • Foreign tourism is not fueling significant new business

To adapt, parlors are trying to modernize and cater to younger players. However, they face backlash from anti-gambling groups. Stronger regulations may be on the horizon.

While pachinko/pachislot are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, their golden era has likely passed. The industry will face challenges adjusting to social changes in Japan in the coming decades.


Slot machines are a distinctive part of the Japanese entertainment landscape. Since the 1960s, pachinko and pachislot parlors have flourished, despite an ongoing legal gray zone. Players across all demographics are drawn to slots for leisure, business networking and hopes of hitting jackpots.

However, gambling addiction linked to slots remains a serious issue in Japan. With the government debating increased casino gambling, the future of traditional pachinko is uncertain. While slots will likely persist in some form, their heyday has arguably waned in favor of modern entertainment options.

For visitors, sampling pachinko or pachislot can offer an interesting glimpse into Japanese culture. But the confusing rules and smoking environment deter most tourists. As Japan debates how to regulate gambling, slots remain ingrained in the country’s social fabric while facing inevitable evolution.