Gambling in Japan: 7 Best Ways to Gamble without Casino

Best gamble and betting games in Japan without casino


From a foreign visitor’s point of view, Pachinko is known to be Japan’s most popular way of gambling and substitution for casinos for the Japanese people. But did you know that there are many other “games of chance” in Japan where you can test your luck?

When foreign visitors come to Japan, there are many things that come up to their minds. Tasty local food, history-rich sites, unique pop culture, etc… “Gambling” may not be one of the words people usually associate with Japan, majorly because there are no casinos (yet).

Currently, there are no legal casinos in Japan because it used to be prohibited. But recently, a new law passed that allows casinos to be opened in Japan as part of Integrated Resorts. This is a big project that will take time and it is estimated that casinos will start opening in Japan sometime around 2025.

Here, I will introduce to you some of the different types of Gambling that the Japanese like to do. Some might be a little difficult for foreign visitors to experience, but others are not that difficult and might add a little something to your visit to Japan.

We are not recommending or encouraging gambling in its self, but we are rather presenting you to see these as an unusual options for you to experience and therefore, enrich your visit to Japan.

1. Pachinko/ Slot

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You might have seen Pachinko (パチンコ) in Japanese movies, anime, or documentaries. It is like a combination of a pinball machine and a slot machine and is actually not considered to be gambling. It is also the only entry in this list that is not regulated by the government, making it unique amongst the rest.

Usually, Pachinko parlors also have slot machines. These parlors are called “Pachislot”. These parlors are usually huge, loud, and brightly lighted buildings. They are easy to spot in the city.

Pachislot is overwhelmingly the most popular “game of chance” played in Japan, accounting for approximately 40% of the entertainment section of Japanese leisure. What makes Pachinko so popular in comparison with other gambling games?

The main reason is that most people who go to Pachinko don’t do it hoping to win some extra money. Most people go to de-stress themselves from work or school. Being in an environment where all you can hear are the loud pinball sounds and the catchy melodies produced by the machines while facing the machine by yourself can become liberating.

So, as you can see Pachinko is much more than just a gambling game. There is a deeper cultural and historical factor that makes it as popular as it is.

But if you want to have a taste of the Pachinko experience, it might be difficult to just walk into a Pachislot parlor and ask, since employees are not used to attending English speaking customers. So we highly recommend you to take the following tour that will not only teach you how to Pachinko, but you will also learn about the culture and history behind this fascinating game.

※To enter a Pachislot parlor, you have to be over 18 years old and graduated from high school.

▽Check the link below to book a Pachinko experience tour in Tokyo!▽

2. Keiba (Horse Racing)


Horse racing is known in Japan as “Keiba”(競馬), and it is the second most popular “game of chance”, coming after Pachinko. Since Pachinko is technically not gambling, this makes Keiba the most popular gambling game in Japan.

Most Keiba events are operated by the JRA (Japan Racing Association) which is an entity controlled by the government. Non-JRA races are run by local governments, but information for these races can be difficult to access, so if you are interested in going to watch a race, we’d recommend that you look for events held at JRA tracks.

There are 10 tracks operated by the JRA across the country and races are held every weekend in some of these tracks. You can go directly to one of these venues to place your bet and watch the race, or you can go to one of the many “WINS ” which are off-track betting facilities run by JRA.

As opposed to Pachinko, Keiba attracts the hard-core gamblers, so going to the racing venues or betting facilities and feeling the passionate atmosphere is quite the experience.

※There’s no age restriction to go watch a horse race at the venue, but to place a bet you need to be over 20 years old.

<<For more information about Keiba, Click here!!>>

3. Keirin (Bicycle Racing)

Keirin race

The next gambling game in our list is”Keirin” (競輪). Keirin, which is bicycle racing, is the next big betting game in Japan. Although not as big as Keiba, there is a sizeable devoted fan base.

Keirin began in Kitakyushu shortly after World war II ended, and it involves a group of 9 cyclists (plus a pacer) doing several laps around a velodrome. It was first developed solely for gambling purposes, but now it is also popular for its athletic competitive side.

Keirin competitions are organized by the JKA (Japan Keirin Auto-race Foundation), and these competitions are held all across the country (There are tracks in almost all prefectures). Keiba likewise, you can go directly to the competition venue to place your bet and watch the race, or you can also go to one of the many off-track betting facilities.

The interesting thing about Keirin is that there are 2 aspects to it. There is the gambling aspect which is why I’m writing about this in this article. But then there is also the sporting aspect. There are around 2,300 registered cyclists who are professional athletes, some of them who will qualify for the Olympic games.

※There’s no age restriction to go watch Keirin at the venue, but to place a bet you need to be over 20 years old.

<<For more information about Keirin, Click here!!>>

4. Auto Racing

Auto race

Auto racing (オートレース) is very similar to Keirin in many aspects, but the races are done with motorcycles as opposed to bicycles. It was created for gambling purposes and the first race was held in 1950.

All Auto racing competitions are run by the JKA just like Keirin. Usually, 8 motorcycles compete in each race by doing 6 to 10 laps (depending on the type of race) around a 500m velodrome. 12 races are held during a day, and competitions take about 3 to 5 days. The motorcycles are 599cc and have a two-speed gearbox.

There are 5 official tracks across the country, which are Kawaguchi (Saitama prefecture), Isesaki (Gunma prefecture), Hamamatsu (Shizuoka prefecture), Sanyo-Onoda (Yamaguchi prefecture), and Iizuka (Fukuoka prefecture).

To place your bets and gamble, you can either go directly to the racing venue or go to an off-track betting facility. Off-track betting facilities are the same as the ones for Keirin.

※There’s no age restriction to go watch Auto Racing at the venue, but to place a bet you need to be over 20 years old.

<<For more information about Auto Racing, Click here!!>>

5. Kyotei (Boat Race)

Boat Race

Kyotei (競艇), or “BOAT RACE”, was introduced from the US and events started taking place since 1952. It was first created not only for gambling purposes but also to promote and hopefully boost the ship-related industries.

The races consist of Hydroplane motorboats racing around a 600m oval boat course. Racers are assigned a boat at random on race day. Races are composed of 6 boats and are usually 3 laps long. A race usually takes around 2 minutes.

Kyotei stadiums are constructed near lakes, rivers, or the sea. The racing area is a man-made lake 33,000㎡ or larger. There are 24 official venues across the country.

The betting system is very similar to that of Keiba, Keirin, and Auto Race. You can go directly to the race venue to place your bet, or you can also go to an off-track betting facility.

※There’s no age restriction to go watch Kyotei at the venue, but to place a bet and gamble, you need to be over 20 years old.

<<For more information about Kyotei, Click here!!>>

6. Takarakuji (Lottery)

Takarakuji ticket
© 2018 全国自治宝くじ事務協議会

Next on the list, we have the Japanese lottery. In Japan, it is called “Takarakuji” and there are various types of it. Out of all the gambling games on this list, this is the easiest one to play.

The simplest type is the Scratch cards (スクラッチくじ). These come in different forms, but the rules are pretty much the same as in other countries. You can find these at any lottery stand or booth across the country.

Then there’s the type of lottery where you pick several numbers, and you can win by getting all the numbers (or some of the numbers) correctly. For this type of lottery, there is the “Bingo 5”, “Loto 7”, “Loto 6”, “Mini Loto”, “Numbers 3”, and “Number 4”. Loto 6 and Loto 7 are especially popular.

Also, there is the regular-type of lottery where the numbers are already marked in the ticket.

And lastly, there is the Jumbo Takarakuji, which is a special lottery that is held 5 times annually. These 5 special lotteries are The Valentine Jumbo, The Dream Jumbo, The Summer Jumbo, The Halloween Jumbo, and the End-of-year Jumbo.

When it comes to purchasing lottery tickets, you can do it directly at the designated lottery booths. These are found near most large train stations and in front of department stores. It is also possible to purchase tickets via the lottery’s official website.

Some people may not consider the lottery as being a gambling game because it is so common around the world, and maybe because of this, the Japanese lottery is becoming more and more popular among foreign visitors.

※There’s no age restriction to play the lottery, but some booths have a sign saying that they won’t sell to people 17 years old and under.

7. Toto – J-League Soccer Pools

toto lottery

“Toto” is the last gambling game on our list. Toto consists of betting on J-League (Japanese Professional Soccer League) games.

There are 3 types of Toto which are; the “regular Toto” (predict the result for all 13 games), the “mini Toto” (predict the result of 5 games), and the “Toto Goal 3” (predict the result of 3 games). Tickets for any of the Toto types are sold at 100 Yen.

Tickets can be bought in designated Toto booths or convenience stores. You can also purchase tickets via their official website as well as some affiliated websites.

If you don’t know much about Japanese Professional Soccer, don’t worry. there is another version of Toto called “BIG” which a computer makes the predictions for you. But since the predictions made by the computer are completely randomly decided, chances of winning are slimmer than those of someone knowing about soccer placing a bet with Toto.

By the way, there is a Japanese toilet company with the same name, but there is no relation between these two entities.

※To buy a Toto ticket, you need to be 19 years old or older.

Hope you enjoyed this list. There are other types of gambling games besides the ones on this list. But these 7 that we are introducing are the main, popular, and (most importantly) legal ones.

Again, we are not endorsing the act of gambling. But we think this is an interesting part of Japanese culture that doesn’t get covered very often.

I also want to remind you to be careful when gambling. Plan ahead about how much you’re willing to spend and gamble in a safe way. But other than that, have fun!

For more unconventional things to do, check these articles for ideas!

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Written by

Born and raised in Costa Rica, I started living in Tokyo from college. I love traveling within Japan & around the world. Since I wasn’t born in Japan, I know the cultural impact that you can get when visiting Japan for the first time and what you might be worried about before your trip. And I’ve lived long enough to somewhat understand the nuances of the Japanese culture that make this country such an attractive place to visit. Hopefully I can provide to you both the information you’re looking for and the information you didn’t know you needed to know.