As the biggest brand name in online poker, Pokerstars has unique opportunities in terms of where they target new markets to try and bring in players. Since the middle of last year, plans have been surfacing to try and tap into the Japanese market, which consists of 126 million people. What followed in the autumn was a freeroll festival for Japanese players, with the maximum number of tickets being awarded to new players depositing $20 or more. Few month later, in January, Kosei Ichinose has become the second Japanese players to be signed up by the company. Vanessa Selbst, along with other sponsored pros have also made appearances at Japanese live poker tournaments.
In the past, legislation has been quite strict in Japan. Currently, the Japanese prime minister who is very receptive to gaming and gambling of all varieties, is pushing his majority to pass a casino bill which would allow for casino resorts to be opened in Japan. With the summer Olympics bringing a surge of tourism in 2020, the time seems right for poker expansion, both online, and in casinos.
Read more about the casino bill on Somuchpoker
Cash gaming is still not something which is allowed in Japan, but tournaments have been taking place in increasing numbers. Many of these tournaments offer competitors the chance to win seats into events on major Asian poker tours, which is great for the long term health of Asian poker in general. The coming years could see the number of entrants for the Macau Poker Cup, the APPT and the ACP rising, as poker interest spreads through Japan, and online poker could feel the benefits too. There is already a general love for gaming, hand held devices and the latest technology in Japan, and as the third largest economy in the world, it is clearly the best place in the world for online poker companies to be targeting.
Talented local players
There are already talented Japanese poker players out there too of course, including Naoya Kihara who remains the only WSOP bracelet holder from Japan. He also has a runner up finish in the Sunday Million, and plays high stakes mixed games often. Other Japanese players are also regulars on the Asian Poker Tour already, with Yo Doi finishing 2nd to Sam Razavi in the 2014 APT player of the year race. Azusa Maeda also finished in the top 10.
The Japanese team celebrating Tetsuya Tsuchikawa's victory in the WPT Philippines Main Event (Photo WPT)
With the game of poker being closely linked to pastimes already widely enjoyed in Japan, a prime minister there who advocates less strict gambling laws, and two Japanese Pokerstars pros who are helping to fuel interest there, things are looking very promising.Let us hope that by 2016, the online tables are beginning to fill faster, and live poker tours across Asia, and the world, continue to flourish with new Japanese players arriving at each event.