Japan is considering an expansion of online lottery sales at a time when legislators have proposed new restrictions on other forms of gambling.
On Tuesday, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported that Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry was discussing plans to approve all forms of currently permissible lottery products to be sold online. The change would reportedly take effect from fiscal 2018, the report claimed, citing government sources.
Japan approved limited forms of online lottery sales in January 2014, starting with number-selection products. By fiscal 2016, around 40% of all lottery products were available online, yet they accounted for only 3.6% of total lottery sales that year. Five banks currently control all online lottery sales in Japan.
Lottery sales in fiscal 2016 totaled ¥845.2b (US $7.8b), but this was well off the market’s peak of ¥1.1t in fiscal 2005, and the 2016 figure was the fifth consecutive year that lottery sales have failed to eclipse the ¥1t mark.
The decline in sales has hampered the efforts of local municipalities – who receive 40% of lottery revenue – to fund projects such as anti-disaster preparation, park improvements and programs for senior citizens.
Traditional lottery sales channels include authorized distribution outlets and automated teller machines, but the number of retail outlets in local regions is falling, which has contributed to the decline in lottery funds making it into the hands of local municipalities.
The National Autonomous Lottery Council is reportedly convinced that a full ramp-up of online sales via smartphones will be just the tonic to revive the slumping market, provided the shift doesn’t threaten the survival of retail lottery operators.
The news comes just one week after Japanese legislators announced plans to restrict online race betting activity and remove ATMs from off-track betting facilities. The government is also planning to reduce the number of little silver balls that pachinko players can expect to win from any single machine.
The changes come as Japan continues to prepare for the long-awaited authorization of land-based casino gambling. The gambling expansion has met with resistance due to the nation’s already high percentage of problem gamblers, and future progress could depend on the results of a new government study of gambling addiction rates that is scheduled to be completed this month.