Japanese horse racing fans welcomed the news that Japan Racing Association (JRA) reopens its doors to a limited number of fans in the race tracks in Tokyo, Kyoto and Niigata starting from October 10th 2020. The JRA has held races without spectators since February 29 due to Covid-19 outbreak.
Horse racing market in Japan
In light of coronavirus restrictions, horse racing in Japan has been running without fans for more than half a year, however, it recorded even higher sales than the previous year as of September 2020. JRA reported a surge in the number of online bettors by 67% in April-May. At the time of the national state of emergency in Japan, all racetracks of Tokyo, Kyoto and Fukushima recorded sales increases compared to the previous year, thanks to online betting.
The revenues of public gambling in Japan have been on the rise consecutively for the last 5 years. Horse racing remains a multibillion-dollar business, by far the most lucrative among all the legal gambling options in the country.
Revenues of public gambling in Japan (for Fiscal Year 2019 April 2019-March 2020, compared over the same period of the previous year):
- Central horse racing (JRA): 2,881.8 billion yen (+ 3.1%)
- Local horse racing (NAR）: 701.0 billion yen (+ 16.2%)
- Boat racing: 1,534.2 billion yen (+ 11.7%)
- Auto racing: 73.9 billion yen (+ 4.9%)
- Bicycle race (Keirin): 660.5 billion yen (+ 0.9%)
In April this year, the Japanese government issued a state of emergency and recommended nationwide practices of social distancing, and neither NPB nor the J-League had any prospect of resuming play. In addition, most of the pachinko parlors were closed during the time. This situation provided unique opportunities for Japanese people to take interest in horse racing as one of the few leisure activities accessible from home.
The rise of online betting in Japan
An online betting boom has been witnessed around the world amidst covid-19, and Japan is not an exception to this trend. More and more Japanese people are getting used to online betting with their mobile phones. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, around 70 percent of bettors have already been making their wagers on horses online over the past two years, according to JRA. Furthermore, JRA claims that the practice of social distancing and the increased time at home has driven more interest in gambling in general.
Gambling law in Japan has been somewhat complex and restrictive. Land casinos and most forms of gambling are still prohibited except for public ones (horses, bikes, powerboats, auto races). However, as an increasing number of gamblers worldwide are shifting from brick and mortar establishments to online betting platforms, Japanese punters are finding more options, catching up with the global trend. Offshore online casinos and betting sites have been accepting players in Japan. William Hill, for instance, has been a bookmaker favored by many Japanese, offering an array of options to wager on horses and popular sports leagues. The coronavirus outbreak appears to be accelerating the betting activity of Japanese gamblers to move online.
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