/ |

Pachinko parlors are losing their balls while Japan considers a cashless economy

by

Contributing Writer

With the Diet’s passing of a law last December that will legalize casino gambling, many are wondering how this development will affect the few forms of tightly controlled gambling and gaming that have been permitted up to now — like pachinko (a type of pinball machine).

“Customers at casinos and those at pachinko parlors are different, so I think they can co-exist and co-prosper,” the manager of a large pachinko emporium remarked to Asahi Geino (Nov. 30). “That’s because part of pachinko’s appeal is that you can walk into a shop by a train station while wearing your sandals.”

Pachinko’s popularity, however, has declined considerably over the past two decades. Compared to some 30 million customers who paid out an estimated ¥30 trillion in revenue in 1995, the figure last year was down to fewer than 10 million players at approximately 10,000 parlors that generated revenue of ¥22 trillion.

Along with demographic factors such as the aging of the population have been tightened regulations on the industry. In July of this year, a new regulation reducing the maximum payoff by machines by around one-third was announced, to take effect from Feb. 1 of next year. As a result, the maximum value of balls paid off to a player over a period of four hours will be less than ¥50,000.

The justification for the new regulation is supposedly to safeguard those susceptible to gambling dependency.

Actually, the ¥50,000 mentioned above only represents equivalent value, as pachinko parlors pay off in keihin (prizes), not cash. What typically happens is that via the nearly universal “three-shop system,” the keihin — usually items like ball-point pens or cigarette lighters — are carried to a nearby window and exchanged for cash. The items are then transferred to a wholesale broker who sells it back to the pachinko parlor. To add insult to injury, it’s now rumored that the authorities intend to abolish this system.

“By prohibiting this kankin (literally, “conversion to gold”), the government intends to drive the pachinko industry out of business,” a political insider tells the magazine.

The pachinko industry is closely overseen by an organization made up of retired police officials — who have been accused of treating it as a cozy post-career perk. As the body that will provide oversight of the new casinos has yet to be designated, the crackdown on pachinko, Asahi Geino suggests, may be a strategic move by the National Police Agency to grab a share of the action.

Peripheral to this story, or perhaps not, is the fact that many Korean residents of Japan, or naturalized Japanese with Korean backgrounds, operate pachinko parlors. This topic was covered last August by America’s MSNBC network, which noted that remittances by Koreans in Japan to family members in North Korea have helped to prop up that country’s staggering economy, some 25 percent of which is said to be channeled into military expenditures.

Yet strangely, and considering the timing of the latest move — coming as it does amid heightened tensions between Japan and North Korea — Asahi Geino does not raise this topic at all.

While the rest of the world has been engaged in genkin-banare (abandoning cash), Japanese have tenaciously stuck with conducting a majority of their commerce using the coin of the realm.

Some Japanese have looked on in envy at Chinese, who are now use their smartphones to conduct speedy electronic transactions in their own national currency in thousands of shops in Japan, even at convenience stores. (The Nihon Keizai Shimbun recently reviewed a bestselling book on this topic by Kei Nakajima titled “Why don’t Chinese carry wallets?”)

Japan is running fast to catch up. In a cover story titled “The termination of cash: Your job will vanish as well,” Nikkei Business (Nov. 20) introduces the coming changes and how they are likely to affect our lives.

“The progression in digitalization of currency will overturn the nature of money as it has existed up to now,” the magazine predicts. “And the effects won’t stop there. The ‘termination of cash’ is no more than the beginning.”

To understand what’s going on, one needs to read up on “blockchain technology.” Information held on a blockchain exists as a shared — and continually reconciled — database, which supposedly makes it incorruptible.

As an example of how it would work, consider the sale of property, conducted directly between buyer and seller without use of a licensed broker. Once the terms of the sale are agreed upon, the transaction can be performed virtually instantaneously via computer, with the data registered in the blockchain serving as proof of the completed transaction. And thus greatly reducing the need for attorneys or legal scriveners to hammer out contracts and verify their contents.

Online retailers such as Amazon or Rakuten will also be affected. A consumer will be able to enter the details of the merchandise he or she seeks, and would be automatically linked to the seller. If both parties agree on the terms, the merchandise will be shipped and payment processed automatically.

Recording of digital transactions can also be expected to discourage illegal activities such as money laundering and tax evasion.

Nikkei Business predicts the spread of direct transactions will eventually reduce the demand for employment in such sectors as civil service, banking, e-commerce, sharing services and what the magazine refers to as “antisocial elements,” meaning yakuza.

Another impact will be on freelancing. If Japan follows the employment trends in the U.S., the percentage of freelance workers is likely to increase appreciably. (In the U.S., the ratio of freelancers to the total working population rose from 17 percent in 1989 to 36 percent in 2015, and is predicted to rise further to 43 percent by 2020.)

Japan became the first country to assign a position to virtual currency in its financial system; what the magazine wants to know is, can blockchain technology be tweaked to ensure the whole thing works seamlessly?