Tuesday September 17,2013 : ONLINE GAMBLING POPULAR IN JAPAN
But police are concerned that organised crime may be behind ‘tele-casinos'.
The respected Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun reports that Japanese police are concerned that the popularity of internet gambling in the Asian country is attracting the involvement of the ‘yakuza' (organised crime groups).
It's perhaps a message that reinforces the need for regulated and licensed online gambling in the populous country, where there have recently been demands for a more progressive approach to properly regulated online and land gambling.
Asahi Shimbun says that a young, relatively low-stakes demographic in their twenties and thirties frequent the ‘tele-casinos' which offer free smokes and drinks, along with what appears to be partly a form of the controversial internet cafe ‘sweepstakes' style business model, and partly a type of live dealer action.
The studio operators are based in nations such as the Philippines, Costa Rica and the Caribbean. A casino operator licensed by the governments in those nations sets up a gambling studio with baccarat and poker tables, and members from around the world receive live video feeds from the studio.
At the Japanese end, a tele-casino operator opens a premises equipped with computers and establishes a relationship with the overseas suppliers, purchasing 50 yen "points" from the operator. The Japanese outlet in turn sells those points to its customers for 100 yen a point. The gamblers use the points to place bets, and the points can be converted back into cash.
The newspaper reports that about 80 percent of the gamblers play baccarat because the pace of play is brisk, as it doesn't take long to determine the winner of each hand, and the house edge is smaller.
"Profits can be reaped with only a tenant and computers," a man who runs one of the illegal casinos told the newspaper. "The yakuza would not ignore such a business opportunity."
He added that the advantages were low set-up costs and overheads, and a guaranteed monthly pay-out.
However, there is always the risk of detection and prosecution by Japanese police, who will pursue both the local casino operator and punters. Nevertheless, the high profits possible – some claim over 5 million yen a month – encourage operators to continue.
Asahi Shimbun journalists visited typical establishments in the city of Nagoya, reporting that the venues operated behind internet cafe branding.
"However, strangers cannot simply walk into the establishment," they recount. "There are six security cameras placed inside and outside the outlet, and the steel door can only be opened via double electronic locks."
One outlet manager told journalists: "The difficulty in entering the outlet is one way of dealing with the police. We have ways of determining if an individual is with the police."
He added that the extreme security was also necessary to deter criminal elements – such establishments are prime targets because thefts or robberies cannot be reported to police due to the illegality of the operation. One manager told reporters that no more than a million yen is ever kept on-premises.
Another manager said that only regulars or those introduced by regular patrons would be given access. He said that members register their mobile phone numbers, and placing calls to the establishment from that number opens the door.
Some of the tricks of the trade are designed to delay police whilst evidence is destroyed, and ruses to give the impression that the premises really is an internet cafe.
Now well established following more than a decade of operations, Japan's tele-casinos have proliferated in many cities, including Tokyo where there are at least 60.
A Tokyo Metropolitan Police investigator told the Asahi Shimbun that the illegal outlets are usually found in areas where the yakuza is active, and claimed that ultimately the profits go to the organised crime syndicates.