Japanese Police Arrest Top Yakuza Boss Accused of Running High-Stakes Tokyo Baccarat Den

Posted on: September 30, 2020, 02:49h. 

Last updated on: September 30, 2020, 03:20h.

Tokyo police said this week they had arrested a high-level yakuza boss who they accuse of operating an illegal casino in the bustling Roppongi area of the Japanese capital.

Yakuza casino
Roppongi is a part of Tokyo popular for its nightlife, which included an underground high-stakes casino until it was busted in July. (Image: Japan Times)

Chizuka Yamamoto, 70, is a reputed “executive” of the Takumi-gumi organized crime group, a subgroup of the Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest Yakuza organization.

According to a police statement, Yamamoto had been running the members-only high-stakes baccarat den in a room of a multitenant building since January 2019. In that time, the business had generated revenues of around JPY480 million ($4.5 million USD), they added.

Customers Detained

The operation was busted in July when nine people, including the manager, were detained by police. Subsequent investigations resulted in the arrest of Yamamoto on Monday, along with three Yakuza associates, police said.

In addition to seizing two tables, chips, and playing cards, investigators also detained five customers, aged between 37 and 72.

The casino stayed open throughout the state of emergency called by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some customers told police they had been frequenting the illegal establishment only because they could not travel abroad to gamble because of coronavirus.

Police said they believe the profits from the venture were used to fund other criminal enterprises. Yamamoto denies any involvement with the casino.

Yakuza Gambling Origin  

The Takumi-gumi was founded by Masaru Takumi, a powerful Japanese crime figure and number 2 of the Yamaguchi-gumi until his assassination in 1997. The Yamaguchi-gumi is one of the largest criminal organizations in the world, with more than 20,000 members.

It’s also among the wealthiest, amassing billions of dollars a year from extortion, gambling, the sex industry, drug dealing, arms trafficking, stock market manipulation, and construction kickback schemes.

As the Japanese government lays the groundwork for its new, liberalized casino market, it’s determined to keep the Yakuza out. But the Yakuza have other ideas.

Many of today’s modern Yakuza groups evolved from itinerant gambler societies of the 18th to 20th centuries, known as bakuto. These groups peddled games of chance and loaned money, and were considered social outcasts, living outside the norms of society. For many Yakuza, spiritual descendants of the bakuto, they “own” gambling in Japan.

Poised to Infiltrate Casinos

In July 2018, an unnamed high-ranking member of the Yamaguchi-gumi told respected left-leaning national newspaper Ashai Shinbun (AS) that the Yakuza were determined to profit from the regulated casino market, and there was little that anyone could do to stop them.

Once rules are decided on how to place restrictions on organized crime, we can begin thinking about ways to get around those legal barriers,” said the source.

Yakuza would infiltrate the new sector most likely through loansharking and junket operations, just as the Hong Kong triads did in Macau in the 1990s, he claimed.