The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about numerous societal shifts, one of which is the alarming increase in gambling addiction among young individuals in Japan. The Society Concerned about Gambling Addiction, a nonprofit organization, has raised urgent concerns regarding this trend. They have called on the government to enhance regulations on online gambling to address what has become a growing and troubling issue.

The pandemic-induced shift to remote work and increased online engagement has significantly contributed to the rise in online gambling among young people. The Society reports a notable correlation between the pandemic and the surge in online betting activities. This has led to an increase in consultations regarding gambling addiction among the youth, highlighting the need for immediate intervention.

Japan has strict prohibitions on most forms of gambling. Casino activities, for example, are generally banned. However, certain forms of government-sanctioned betting, such as horse races, bicycle races, motorcycle races, and motorboat races, are allowed. Pachinko and pachislot games are also permitted under Japanese law. Despite these regulations, many individuals find ways to engage in online gambling through overseas casino websites, exploiting legal loopholes that allow them to bypass restrictions.

In a 2023 study conducted by the Society, 479 cases involving individuals with gambling addiction or their family members seeking counseling were analyzed. The findings are troubling:

  • Age Group: 78% of those struggling with addiction were in their 20s and 30s. This represents a 14-percentage point increase from 2019.
  • Online Betting: Consultations related to online betting, including sports wagers, rose to 20.3% of cases, a 16-point increase.
  • Motorboat Races: 28% of cases involved motorboat races, an increase of 22.7 points.
  • Bicycle Races: Consultations about bicycle races accounted for 18.2%, up by 15.5 points.

The average debt incurred by gambling addicts in 2023 was JPY 8.55 million (€50,174). Furthermore, 28.2% of the consultations involved illegal activities, such as borrowing from illicit lenders or stealing from family members or businesses. This underscores the severe impact on both personal and family finances.

The Society Concerned about Gambling Addiction warns that the prevalence of gambling addiction among young people is likely to continue rising. They emphasize the necessity for the government to strengthen regulations on online gambling to mitigate this issue. The recent approval of Japan’s first casino in Osaka, set to open in 2030 and developed by a consortium including MGM Resorts and Orix, further highlights the urgency for robust regulatory frameworks to address potential increases in gambling-related problems.

The surge in gambling addiction among young individuals in Japan is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention. Parents and educators must be aware of the signs of gambling addiction and take proactive steps to prevent it. Meanwhile, the government must implement stricter regulations to curb the rise of online betting.

By acknowledging the severity of this problem and taking decisive action, we can help safeguard the well-being of our youth and preserve the financial stability of families across Japan. The time to act is now.

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