Japan Authorities Make Landmark Online Gambling Arrests

February 21, 2024
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An American national and six locals have been arrested in Japan over the alleged operation of a mahjong gambling website generating millions of dollars in revenue, reportedly the nation’s first arrests involving domestic online gambling operators.
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An American national and six locals have been arrested in Japan over the alleged operation of a mahjong gambling website generating millions of dollars in revenue, reportedly the nation’s first arrests involving domestic online gambling operators.

US national Aaron Asher Randall, 36, and six Japanese nationals based in Okinawa and Fukuoka were detained over operations linked to the Japanese and English-language Dora Mahjong website, Kyoto Prefecture police announced on Monday (February 19).

Randall, misnamed as “Randall Aaron Asher” in Japanese and gaming media, is a Chiba Prefecture-based gaming consultant, composer, podcaster and founder of digital marketing company Shinka Labs.

Police allege the 74,000-member website has generated some ¥2.3bn ($15.3m) in revenue since 2011, and that Randall and two of the six Japanese suspects have confessed to illegal gambling operations, including receiving commissions, money handling and marketing.

The alleged offences took place between March and December 2023.

The remaining four suspects have denied wrongdoing, stating they did not know their actions were illegal, police said.

A police statement said website customers are being investigated for serial gambling offences as part of the ongoing probe across at least six prefectures.

Police and Japanese media say the website is controlled by a “foreign corporation”.

The landing page of doramahjong.com says that its software is “licensed from Mahjong Logic Limited … which is licensed and regulated” in the Isle of Man.

The licensing hub’s Gambling Supervision Commission website confirms Mahjong Logic is a network services licensee linked to the websites doramahjong.com and doracasino.com.

Okinawan daily Ryukyu Shimpo reported on Tuesday that three of the suspects — a male company executive, a female company employee and a self-employed man — were based in Okinawa and that their homes were raided last December.

The arrests are a law enforcement landmark for Japan’s massive online gambling ecosystem that has hidden in plain sight for years.

Japanese police demonstrated last November that they would no longer tolerate online gambling operations or the payments companies supporting them, re-arresting a payments executive on organised crime charges over his SumoPay platform and probing his associates and customers.

It was not immediately clear if the current probe into Dora Mahjong extends to several domestic and foreign payments services listed on the Japanese version of the website.

Prosecution of online gambling operators, potentially including all-important affiliate websites, and their customers followed sustained media and activist criticism of the government and the police over their apparent inaction, although the SumoPay probe was later revealed to have begun in early 2021.

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