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Illegal casinos on the rise in Osaka's entertainment area

The neon-lit Minami entertainment district in Osaka's Chuo Ward is seen on April 16, 2018. (Mainichi)

OSAKA -- There has been an upswing in the number of illegal casinos in the entertainment district of Minami here, it has emerged.

At around 10 p.m. in mid-April, I took a stroll through Minami, a neon-lit entertainment district teeming with tourists. A casually dressed young male tout approached and asked, "How about a drink? Or perhaps some gambling?" He went on to inform me they had "everything," including internet casinos, illegal slots and baccarat.

I asked, "Don't people get in trouble for this?" -- a question the man laughed off. "If the police ask you something, just tell them you thought it was a gaming cafe, and you'll be off the hook."

According to another male tout, internet casinos appear to be most popular because of their convenience. Inside a room with a door marked "Members Only" in a multi-tenant building, there's a dark room with several computers, each isolated from the others by curtain partitions. The screen shows the balance of money the customer has from the amount they paid to the casino receptionist, which can be used to bet on games such as roulette or baccarat. Casino operators try to lure customers back by giving them a gift certificate for 5 percent of the amount that they paid for their next visit.

As a general rule, all such casinos require customers to present their health insurance cards or a business card. "It's to make sure that plainclothes police officers aren't investigating undercover," the tout explained.

The Osaka Prefectural Police say that the proportion of internet casinos has surged in recent years, and one investigative source remarked that it was likely because they didn't cost much to operate, since they do not require special facilities or much manpower. "A lot of businessmen use internet casinos, but they're illegal, so you should absolutely not go," the source said. "You'll lose out in the end."

Meanwhile, a senior member of an organized crime syndicate said, "Internet casinos are a very efficient business. There are so many now that we can't keep track of how many of them there are in Minami." The gang member explained that they move casino locations once every few months to prevent detection by investigative authorities. However, the gang member said, there were risks to expanding one's business.

"In order to slash the earnings of rival businesses, some crime organizations use hoodlums to attack other casinos," the member explained.

The number of people apprehended for their involvement in illegal gambling has risen in Osaka Prefecture in recent years. Some casinos have logged sales of at least 200 million yen in the course of about 18 months. The prefectural police are poised to further clamp down on internet casinos.

(Japanese original by Tsuyoshi Fujita, Osaka City News Department)

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