Japan Sports Betting: Government Says Not So Fast

Posted on: June 9, 2022, 07:56h. 

Last updated on: June 9, 2022, 12:25h.

Japanese policymakers are throwing cold water on the idea of expanded sports wagering in the country, indicating a proposal to that effect is unlikely to gain near-term traction.

Japan sports betting
Japan Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, seen here in March. He doesn’t see sports wagering expansion happening anytime soon. (Image: The Japan Times)

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno recently acknowledged that while Japan’s Sports Development Council could meet next month for the first time since 2018, it’s unlikely broader sports betting will emerge from that conference.

Currently, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is holding a study group on sports, but it has also been reported that there is no plan to present a proposal to lift the ban on sports betting at any of the study groups,” he told local media.

His remarks come just days after reports surfaced that the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has a draft proposal to liberalize sports wagering in the world’s third-largest economy. However, that speculation was quickly refuted by industry minister Koichi Hagiuda, indicating any path to broadening sports betting in Japan is likely lengthy and potentially futile.

Support for Japan Sports Betting Hard

Sports betting in Japan is a different ballgame compared to other developed markets, like Europe and the US. Local attitudes and policy make it difficult to advance broader sports wagering, even if regulated.

In the Land of the Rising Sun, sports betting isn’t as ingrained in local culture as in the US or Europe. The state-level regulation that works in the US likely isn’t feasible in Japan. Additionally, some citizens are resistant to the idea of integrated resorts, and while Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is supportive of land-based casinos, he’s ardently opposed to any form of online gaming.

The current Japanese sports betting landscape is limited to cycling, horse racing, and motorboat and motorcycle racing. Betting on the J-League is currently permitted under a lottery-style system known as “Toto.” But that’s far different than traditional single-game wagering.

Baseball’s Nippon Professional League opted against participating in Toto amid owners’ fears of potential match-fixing scandals.

Plenty of Red Tape

Japan already has a reputation for bureaucratic delays and snafus regarding its integrated resort process. These issues chased some marquee gaming companies from the country, and it’s possible that the problem would resurface with any attempt to liberalize sports wagering.

Each of the aforementioned sports for which betting is permitted is regulated by a separate ministry. Bringing all those activities under one umbrella is considered difficult at best.

Working through those issues could take years, indicating that expanding sports betting in Asia’s second-largest economy isn’t imminent.