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Is Japan embracing a potential for sports betting amid the coronavirus pandemic?

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Japan’s popular soccer lotteries, “Toto” is likely to expand its scope by including basketball betting.

On Nov 20, an amendment to the Toto law (sports promotion lottery law) was passed at the plenary session of the House of Representatives, raising the prospect of enactment in 2022.

Japan Sports Council (JSC) and other concerned parties are looking to drive revenue growth by adding new markets for football as well as the country’s basketball B-League.

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Currently, Japanese Toto offers a legal option for wagering on football in the country but the scope is limited to J-League, Bundesliga and Premier League. Last year’s sales revenues were approximately 93.8 billion yen.

The sales of the Toto are the source of funds for a wide range of sports subsidies, such as financial assistance in training young athletes, development of local sports facilities, and support for sports clubs. This year’s sales, for example, will go to next year’s subsidy allocation for the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics. However, the coronavirus crisis led to a significant decline in sales of Toto this year.

In order to secure sports financial resources, JSC resumed the Toto sales for the Bundesliga’s matches in May this year.

The biggest partner for the Toto has been nothing but the J League, however, JSC could no longer wait for its resumption and took a step in resuming sales for the matches of the German football league instead.

The total revenues of the sales was about 1,328 million yen with all seven types of lotteries, including the “Big” with a maximum prize of 600 million yen.

Nevertheless, the overall sales revenue declined by 29% compared to the same period of the previous year  (February 29 to March 7).

Of the sales profits, three-quarters are used for sports promotion subsidies (one-quarter will be paid to the national treasury). For the first time in two years, the sales figure was approaching the level of 100 billion yen, but the corona situation overturned the prospect.

JSC is finding a way to boost sales and came up with the plan to include basketball markets as well as more soccer betting options such as individual match results and scores. JSC estimates that the introduction of new markets will increase annual sales close to 150 billion yen.

This may sound unsurprising given an increasing number of bookmakers accepting Japanese bettors to wager on popular sports including football and basketball. The unique corona situation accelerated the popularity of online betting in the US, for example.

Although Japanese Toto offers far less options compared to offshore bookmakers, JSC aims to drive sales by adding a few more varieties. With an addition of basketball to the Toto, Japanese can bet on scores and win/loss of a game, and the team ranking of league games and tournament games. As the rise in popularity of J-League and the Toto went hand in hand, JSC views that this would also help in further popularizing the basketball league.