Although lawmakers have ditched plans for now to repeal a ban on casinos, the issue has cast renewed attention on the problem of pathological gamblers, such as those who go into debt to satisfy a pachinko addiction.

A health ministry panel has estimated there are 5.36 million gambling addicts in the country, or 4.8 percent of the adult population. And addiction psychologists say up to 1 million people may be predisposed to a severe addiction that requires medical attention.

"The ratio is higher than the average 1 to 2 percent of other countries," said Yasunobu Komoto, head of the psychiatry section at the National Hospital Organization Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.