Japan’s consumer affairs minister has told a parliamentary committee that the government may seek to block foreign gambling websites as part of a host of “counter-measures” against a proliferating online gambling market.
Taro Kono, minister for consumer affairs and food safety, told the lower house Special Committee on Consumer Affairs on Thursday (May 25) that he has asked a number of ministries and government agencies to consider counter-measures against affiliate-linked foreign websites.
Kono’s bombshell call for direct confrontation with both foreign and local online gambling interests comes as the first prosecution of an online gambler since 2016 emerged in Kyoto Prefecture.
Responding to a committee member’s question, Kono’s minute-long answer did not go into significant detail, but included the prospect of website blocking, the Kanagawa Shimbun daily newspaper reported.
Any move to block websites would mark a significant governmental shift toward regulatory intervention and punitive action after years of more-or-less ignoring massive industry growth and problem gambling impacts.
Kono made reference to possible “counter-measures” in conjunction with police and other organs during a previous committee hearing on April 4, but he made no reference to website blocking and seemed to suggest that the onus was on the police to develop a response.
International Casino Institute CEO Takashi Kiso welcomed the development, noting on his Twitter account that website blocking “has finally entered the arena of policy consideration”.
“I continue to insist that … counter-measures are necessary from the perspective of ensuring an equal footing and a fair competitive environment for legal gambling industries in Japan,” Kiso said.
He added that the minister’s comments came just weeks after Kyoto police launched the prosecution of a police official at the prefectural headquarters’ juvenile division.
Kyoto police allege that the officer gambled ¥20,000 ($143) on a casino card game on an overseas gambling website in April 2022 and had gambled several million yen since September 2021.
The apparent seven-year hiatus in prosecuting online gambling crime thus appears to have ended, with Kono’s Consumer Affairs Agency and police now in the vanguard of policing the industry following their joint public education campaign last October that confirmed gambling on offshore websites is a criminal activity.
The prosecution of the Kyoto police officer is also set to test the industry’s long-held assumption that a previous attempt to prosecute an online gambler failed because the judge backed counsel arguments that foreign licences dilute the liability of local gamblers.