A new era for the Japanese poker scene?

For a country such as as Japan with very strict gambling laws, the red flag on poker has been lifted. This past summer, the Japanese Parliament approved the development of up to three integrated casino resorts and among the games given meticulous consideration was poker. It is likely that as early as mid-2020’s, poker players – both foreign and national – will be able to play the game at the casino resorts with real money as prizes. News of this kind has long been hoped for by numerous poker organizers that have been waiting on the sidelines for years for such a turnaround.

Major tours consolidate their footprint in Japan

Japan TokyoWith poker continuing to expand throughout Asia, the Japanese market is one that falls under “semi-tapped”. To circumvent the strict laws, poker organizers have latched themselves to poker clubs / groups, offering tournaments with enticing prizes to bigger events outside of the country. This partnership has worked well through the years as seen by the strong contingent of Japanese players following the Asian Poker Tour (APT). The APT brand has always been interested in the Japanese market with APT Japan Corp. organizing events in the country under the tour’s flagship.

Recently, the APT announced a new addition to next year’s calendar, APT Japan Tokyo 2019. The event takes place in two weekends, February 1 to 3 and February 8 to 11, at Casino Stadium Tokyo.

More: APT Tokyo Japan – Schedule

Another brand making its presence felt is the World Poker Tour (WPT). Last year, the WPT in conjunction with the Japan Poker Union Corporation held their first-ever event in the country at Bane Bagus in Tokyo. Qualifying events took place in various clubs leading up to it. The Main Event drew 460 entries with Eiji Kimura winning the top prize – $10,000 WPT Multi-Passport. The WPT returned for a second event in September 2018 as part of the WPT Asia Swing with three festivals held in succession from Japan to Korea and to Vietnam. Shingo Endo overcame 322 entries at the Main Event to claim the $13,000 WPT Passport credit first prize.

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Shingo Endo – Photo WPT

Yet in spite of the potential of the Japanese market, live events have remained limited solely because of local regulations. Poker players enjoy the game but winning real money is the ultimately the biggest draw.

The next big step: Poker in casino resorts

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MGM Osaka (MGM Presentation)

Hence the arrival of integrated casino resorts (IR). After years of debate, Japan has adopted the law allowing three integrated casino resorts and with it, the green light on poker as one of the games offered. Though this decision was not reached easily.

According to an article in The Mainichi – Japan National Daily,

“The IR bill currently states that casino operators must be able to guarantee the fairness of the games available, that the games only be available on the casino premises, and that betting games be based on chance outcomes. Under those terms, valid casino games would include roulette, blackjack and Baccarat. Other games where players compete against each other directly and are therefore difficult to keep fair, such as mahjong or gambling on shogi, are expected to be excluded. Poker, too, was expected to be banned at the casinos for the same reason.”

However, after many doubts and hesitation, it has been confirmed that poker will be allowed in the casino resorts. It is up to the casino management committee to include the game but if offered, the IRs’ need to ensure that professional poker dealers are in place along with other strict measures that guarantees fairness. 

In speaking to Somuchpoker, APT General Manager, Lloyd Fontillas expressed,

“We see this upcoming casino resorts as a great opportunity for our brand; The Asian Poker Tour has a long term plan in Japan that’s why we have decided to develop our presence in the country especially via APT Japan corp.”

What remains uncertain is if these new IRs’ will impact the existing clubs which are still playing a very important role on the Japanese poker scene.

Article by Tricia David

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Tricia David

Tricia David has long experience as a recreational poker player and has been covering poker events since 2010 for numerous outfits in Asia. She spent one year working part time with Poker Portal Asia then became editor and lead writer for all event coverage of the Philippine Poker Tour (PPT). Under the PPT, she overlooked content for their website, and produced live updates on all their events. In addition, she served as the live and online events website content writer for the Asian Poker Tour. Currently, she does live events reporting in Asia for online news site Somuchpoker and is also one of their news contributors.

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