Japanese authorities have warned the country’s citizens they face criminal prosecution for using unlicensed online gambling sites, even if the operator is based overseas.
A Japanese-themed online casino game for Android, pictured above. But online casinos are illegal in the country, and residents are prohibited from playing on them. (Image: APKPure)
Japan’s National Police Agency (NPA), in coordination with its Consumer Affairs Agency, issued the notice across multiple media channels Monday, according to Inside Asian Gaming. The guidance was intended to clear up ambiguity about the legality of engaging in online gaming.
“Have you ever heard that using online casinos as an individual is legal as long as the site is operated legally overseas?” demanded the NPA, as translated by IAG. “Even if an online casino is operated legally overseas, connecting from within Japan and then gambling on the site is illegal. There is precedence of arresting online casino users for gambling-related crimes. Gambling is a crime. Stay away.”
While some Japanese citizens have been arrested and cautioned in the past for gambling on foreign sites, a lack of legal clarity has persisted.
The only legally regulated online gambling in Japan involves betting on horse racing, and unusually, cycling, motorcycling, and motorboat racing. This is operated and self-regulated by the Japanese government, or municipal bodies where permitted.
The question was, is it illegal for Japanese to play on sites that are legally licensed in foreign countries, via a VPN, for example, because the foreign operator may not be breaking any specific Japanese laws? The answer: a resounding yes, according to the NPA.
The agency cited two recent incidents where Japanese citizens were arrested for using offshore online casinos and charged with “simple crimes related to gambling activities.” The penalty for this transgression is a fine of no more than JPY500,000 (US$3,380), or up to three years in prison.
Meanwhile, the NPA arrested 18 online gamblers in 2019, 16 in 2020, and the same number in 2021 for gambling crimes related to illegal domestic online casinos.
Most jurisdictions do not go after individual citizens for gambling online, preferring to reserve enforcement action for rogue operators. Japan joins a list of those that do, including China, North Korea, South Korea, Iran, and – at least theoretically – Washington State.
Washington is unique in America in that its gambling laws target not only illegal online operators, but also their customers, although no one has ever been prosecuted for the crime.
Still No Japan Casinos
Japan has tightened enforcement action against illegal gambling since the passage of its Integrated Resort (“IR”) Promotion Law and the IR Implementation Law in 2016 and 2018, respectively. These laws paved the way for the establishment of three integrated resorts in the country.
But their implementation has been beset by bureaucratic delays. Osaka and Nagasaki are expected to become the first host cities of the new resorts, which are unlikely to open before 2028 at the earliest.
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