A growing number of Japanese gamble online illegally, attracted by social media campaigns and assurances from overseas websites that they can avoid arrest for their illegal betting.
Japanese police deny the sites' claims, but recognize the difficulty of gathering sufficient evidence in such cases. In fact, many players are unaware that their actions are against Japanese law.
Because of this situation, some experts fear that gambling addiction could increase in Japan.
The Asahi Shimbun and the Tokyo-based Japanese subsidiary of SimilarWeb, an Israeli digital analytics company, conducted a study of how many people in Japan use overseas online gambling sites.
The most popular casino site was Vera & John. The monthly number of visits from Japan increased 119-fold from 648,000 in December 2018 to 77.51 million in January 2020.
Although the number fell to 19.88 million in August 2020, it rose again to 49.38 million in November.
The website claims to have obtained an operating license for Curacao, a Dutch island in the Caribbean. It also encourages participation by Japan, stressing that it "provides fair and equitable games that everyone can safely and safely enjoy".
“Are you worried about getting arrested for gambling? Do not worry! "The Vera & John website says it is in Japanese.
Most online betting site operators are said to have been officially licensed in countries where gambling is legal. Some of them also display messages in Japanese to attract Japanese users.
There are two main categories of gambling sites: online casinos and sports betting.
Among online sports betting services, bet365 received the most views from the Japanese, rising from 860,000 in December 2018 to a high of 13.2 million in July 2020, according to the Asahi-SimilarWeb study.
According to Bet365, the license comes from Malta in southern Europe.
The increasing popularity of online gambling coincides with the increasing use of cryptocurrencies. Social media advertising for online gambling has also become more common.
Overseas customers can easily register on online betting websites. All you need to do is fill in their names, addresses, bank account numbers and other information.
While credit cards or virtual currency can be used for payments, profits are intended to be transferred through Japanese bank accounts and other means.
Most forms of gambling are banned in Japan. According to police, people who gamble on overseas websites on Japanese soil are violating criminal law.
They said some illegal gamblers were caught.
"We will group together as many users as possible," said an official from the National Police Department.
However, it is difficult for investigators to obtain consent from server managers and other parties to gather evidence from bases in countries and regions where gambling is legal.
In response to a request from The Asahi Shimbun, Vera & John confirmed that it "operates in accordance with the license so we do not have any problems with betting in cash."
The operators of bet365 did not respond to inquiries.
A man in his twenties in the Kinki area started gambling on the internet a few years ago to make extra money. He came across Vera & John at a time when his monthly salary was 150,000 yen ($ 1,422 USD).
"I knew it was illegal, but I didn't think I would ever get arrested," he said.
In one day he spent 10,000 yen on a betting round and won about 300,000 yen.
But now his total losses have exceeded 2 million yen so he is much more cautious when betting.
"As soon as I won, my financial mind was paralyzed," he said. "It's terrifying that I can play so easily there."
A Chiba Prefecture based in his fifties found that his eldest son, who attended college in the Kanto area six years ago, had become addicted to online gambling.
The father visited the son's house and found student loan bills from three agents for nearly 1 million yen. The son reassured his father and said, "I can turn 20,000 yen into 100,000 yen or so."
Troubled by the delusional comment, the father intervened and paid the son's debt. The next day, the student borrowed an additional 700,000 yen.
The father realized the almost impossible task of making gambling addicts stop.
"It was like a car with a broken brake," the man recalled.
He took his son off college to seek treatment to help overcome his addiction. The son was released from the rehabilitation center but did not return to his family home.
LOW AWARENESS OF ILLEGALITY
A Tokyo-based group that calls itself the international casino institute conducted a survey of 1,000 Japanese teenagers or older in December. It found that 2.3 percent of them participated in online betting at least once. That ratio would be around 2.88 million people nationwide.
The gambling rate was highest among men in their forties, at 8.4 percent, and 4.8 percent of them said they had gambled in the past year.
Only 41 percent of respondents said online gambling is illegal in Japan, while 41 percent said it fell into a "gray area" and 18 percent believed it was legal.
Takashi Kiso, head of the group, said online casinos and sports betting services spread dramatically in the 2010s, largely as easier payments in Bitcoin and other virtual currencies became common.
It is believed that dozens of online gambling providers operate Japanese websites. User numbers are reportedly increasing because people are unaware of the illegality and gambling sites aggressively advertise their services on social media.
According to Kiso, wagering over the internet is still not as prevalent in Japan as other forms of gambling, and the country does not have adequate countermeasures against online gambling addiction
"Blocking access to these websites or any other strong means will be essential," said Kiso.
(This article was written by Tamiyuki Kihara and Kosuke Tauchi.