Pachinko funds N. Korean nukes?

Pachinko is a major Japanese industry, earning about $300 billion a year–about six times what all American casinos make. But, despite hard proof to the contrary, some are limiting their play, fearful that some pachinko profits end up in the coffers of North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong Il. From the Mainichi Daily News:

Gambling at pachinko was a lot more fun for Reiko Kuzuhara before she started wondering whether maybe — just maybe — her losses were helping North Korea build nuclear weapons.

Pachinko, a form of pinball deeply loved in Japan, is an industry run by ethnic Koreans, and experts have long believed that the revenues are a vital source of hard currency for the impoverished regime in Pyongyang.

Now, as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s nuclear weapons program gathers pace, Japan’s attitude is hardening, and that includes shutting out the ferry on which the gambling money is believed to be hand-carried from Japan to North Korea.

“I really don’t like that the money I spend could be helping them with those sorts of things,” said Kuzuhara, 55, who works in the printing industry and was interviewed on a Tokyo street near several pachinko parlors. “It’s making me think twice and cut back on how often I play.”

The pachinko connection is facing increased scrutiny as tensions rise following North Korea’s ballistic missile tests in July and its first test of a nuclear device on Oct. 9.

Pachinko is an upright pinball game played at tens of thousands of brightly lit parlors across the country. Success is measured in little steel payoff balls, which can be exchanged for cash or other prizes.

The machines are believed to rake in more than 27 trillion yen a year, some of which finds its way to North Korea. Official figures put the sum of remittances to North Korea from sources in Japan at 3 billion yen in fiscal 2005, more than 90 percent of which was hand-delivered.

But the bookkeeping is murky and some think the real sum could be as high as to 10 billion yen. No one knows how much of it derives directly from pachinko and how much from another major source of income for North Korea in Japan — imported methamphetamines.

“It’s very difficult to say how much cash is actually going from Japan to the North,” said Toshio Miyatsuka, a specialist on North Korea at Yamanashi Gakuin University in central Japan who has written a book about the pachinko industry.

NKorean nuke test and Japanese gambling habits intersect at pachinko – MSN-Mainichi Daily News

This reminds me of the confusion and outrage that followed the Kefauver Committee hearings in 1950–people were amazed that profits from illegal slot machines and horse rooms ended up in the hands of organized crime.

It will be interesting to see whether these seemingly-external geopolitical developments affect the domestic Japanese gaming industry. Will this give the push for full-blown casinos impetus? It’s a possibility.

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