In a bid to generate more sports-related revenue, Japanese policymakers are reportedly mulling expansion of regulated sports betting. But experts believe the move will face heavy opposition.
The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has a draft proposal to ease restrictions on sports wagering in Japan. But industry minister Koichi Hagiuda claims the proposal isn’t imminent, reports The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The media outlet adds Japan’s Sports Development Council could meet for the first time in five years next month, potentially setting the stage for more discussion on the sports wagering issue. The council previously set a goal of more than doubling sports revenue in Japan to more than $11 billion by 2025.
Currently, Japan is the only Group of Seven nation that imposes broad restrictions on sports wagering. But the activity isn’t banned outright in the country. It is, however, confined to cycling, horse racing, and motorboat and motorcycle racing.
Japan Could Tantalize…and Disappoint
Speculation about broader sports betting in Japan surfaced in April 2021, when various reports indicated the Nippon Professional League and broader betting on J-League soccer could debut as soon as 2024, potentially opening the door to what some experts believe could be a $65 billion sports wagering market.
Betting on the J-League is currently permitted under a lottery-style system known as “Toto.” But that’s far different than traditional single-game wagering. Japan also has an eight-team professional basketball association — the Japan Basketball League. The aforementioned Nippon Professional League is widely regarded as the world’s most competitive baseball league after Major League Baseball (MLB).
However, baseball could be the sticking point in advancing sports wagering in the world’s third-largest economy. Owing to concerns about match-fixing, betting is banned under the Professional Baseball Agreement, and the Nippon Professional League doesn’t participate in the Toto system.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reports some experts are voicing concern more regulated betting would lead to a proliferation of in-game wagering, potentially paving the way for match-fixing and problem betting.
Then there’s the matter of Japan’s overall reluctance to embrace gaming. Several years ago, it appeared as though the country could be the next big integrated resort in Asia. Today, only Nagasaki and Osaka compete for casino resorts, and opposition to those efforts is growing in both cities.
Proponents of expanding sports wagering in Japan use arguments familiar to Americans, including the point that Japanese bettors are wagering on foreign sports in black or grey markets, meaning money is leaving the country. That’s similar to the debate in various US states, where politicians often say residents are going to neighboring areas where sports betting is legal to place bets.
Additionally, sports betting backers in Japan say funds from the activity could be used to support junior high sports clubs. That idea doesn’t sit well with some officials that don’t like the optics of betting supporting school-related programs.