Pachinko – the Japanese gambling phenomenon that continues to fascinate the West

Free image taken from 

Looking at a few videos of pachinko parlors in Japan, it’s impossible not to be fascinated. The whirlwind of colors and noises is enough to impress even skeptics and make die-hard fans of Western gambling want to give them a go. Although gambling is technically not legal in Japan, pachinko parlors are allowed to exist through a legal loophole, so millions of people enjoy this gaming. In 2019, the total size of the Japanese pachinko market had reached 20 trillion Japanese yen, and it continues to grow. What’s more, in addition to the fans in Japan, Pachinko is also starting to gain exposure abroad, and some Western casinos are even drawing inspiration from them when creating new games.

So, what exactly is Pachinko, and what makes it so fascinating to Western gamblers?

What are pachinko machines?

Broadly speaking, Pachinko is the Japanese version of slot games. They’re not exactly the same, but the underlying technology is quite similar. Pachinko games have simple rules, which is why anyone can learn how to play. Like slot machines, they used to have physical drums, but now pachinko machines have animated screens, which allows operators more theme and gameplay variety. There is a variety of pachinko machines available, and, most of the time, the themes are connected to Japanese culture, specifically anime.

Although it’s easy to discard pachinko parlors as just another form of entertainment, the truth is that Pachinko is an important part of Japanese culture. The parlors stand out in the cityscape and, for some tourists, a tour of the most popular parlors is a must when they visit Japan.

Many might wonder what the status of physical casino parlors is these days, and, just like in the rest of the world, Japanese authorities have had to limit access to parlors and even close them down during certain periods. Gambling fans do miss the vibrant atmosphere in the same way that we miss casinos, but, luckily, people can still play casino games online securely and enjoy great rewards. It’s true that nothing compares to the hustle and bustle of being in a pachinko parlor, but, even so, operators are doing a great job at replicating the atmosphere. Plus, online casinos are able to offer greater game diversity and bigger bonuses.

To win with Pachinko, you need luck, but, just as with slot games, there’s a bit of strategy involved too. Plus, if you leverage online bonuses, you have better odds of maximizing your gains. It’s quite impressive what the pachinko industry has managed to achieve in Japan, considering that it started out as nothing more than a children’s game. Now, Pachinko is an iconic pastime that draws in millions of players, and that continues to expand its reach around the world.

In the past years, there have been talks about the legalization of casinos in Japan, and three provinces have agreed to build casino resorts. However, these resorts are targeted mostly at tourists, and they will be modified. For example, there are rumors that authorities might limit how much you win to tackle gambling addiction. Some Japanese players are curious to see what Western casino games are like, but, in general, there’s a strong sense of national pride surrounding Pachinko, and most people would never replace them with casino games. As we mentioned before, they have become a national symbol by now, and it’s hard to see them disappear anytime soon.

How are Western casinos taking inspiration from Pachinko?

We may not know for sure when casinos will be mainstream in Japan, but we know that Western casinos are already taking inspiration from Pachinko when creating new games. That’s completely understandable, considering that Pachinko is a huge phenomenon, and the gameplay has its perks.

One way that casino operators have taken inspiration from Pachinko is theme-wise, by incorporating anime elements into slot games. This is a win-win for all fans. For Western fans, anime themes are becoming increasingly popular because the anime market is growing in size. In the past year, people have been watching more anime, especially on streaming services, and they are becoming more familiar with the art style and the characters. Slot games with anime themes are another way of interacting with their favorite characters, so they often prefer these to the traditional themes.

Secondly, operators are adding pachinko-inspired gameplay elements to slot machines. For example, it’s quite common for Pachinko to have bonus levels and even roleplaying elements, whereas in slot games, not so much. However, casino operators have understood that these make games more engaging, which is why they’ve started to introduce them too. The gameplay is pretty much the same but, instead of simply tapping the same button over and over, players get more variety. For example, after reaching a certain stage, they can unlock hidden levels with minigames. Also, slot games can have level progression. This isn’t as complex as in video games, but it definitely adds a roleplay element.

How can you play pachinko games if you’re not from Japan?

If you want the ultimate experience, then nothing compares to playing Pachinko in a physical Pachinko parlor. It’s hard to describe how exciting this is, and even loyal fans of western casinos say that nothing compares to the vibrant and colorful atmosphere there. So, if you have a Japan trip planned soon, you definitely must include a pachinko parlor on your list of attractions.

But, if you won’t be going to Japan anytime soon, or you’re more curious about the gameplay rather than the atmosphere, then you can play Pachinko right now online. There are many websites that offer online pachinko games or slot games inspired by them, and you can see what the hype is all about. In any case, we’ll definitely be seeing more from Pachinko in the following years. From being a local phenomenon, Pachinko is now growing into a global trend, so it will be interesting to see how Western casinos incorporate it into their games.