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YouTuber convicted of gambling in Japan divulges online casino trap – The Mainichi

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An online casino said to have attracted mainly young users is seen on a laptop screen in this partially modified image taken in May 2022. (Mainichi)


MITO — A YouTuber who was given a suspended prison sentence in the Mito District Court on May 8 for betting at an online casino has revealed his difficulty of quitting gambling, telling a prosecutor he would probably find himself doing it again.


Defendant Shoichi Fujino, a self-employed 49-year-old resident of Tokyo’s Taito Ward, was sentenced to imprisonment of one year, suspended for three years. According to the ruling, he accessed a casino site approximately 41 times between Nov. 1 and 26, 2022, and staked more than 5.3 million yen (about $34,000) on baccarat, a game where players compete for total points with cards.


Judge Sadahiro Ariga severely criticized the defendant’s crime as the details emerged in court, saying, “The habitual nature is evident, and his motive of distributing videos for remuneration leaves no room for leniency.”


When Fujino appeared at his first court hearing on April 23, he divulged with hunched shoulders, “Being in detention is 10 times harder than I imagined,” and opened up about the long time he had spent gambling.


His first encounter with gambling came when he was 20. At first, he became hooked on publicly run gambling such as horse and motorboat racing. In 2017, he began posting videos of his gambling activities and horse racing predictions on YouTube. Subscribers topped 100,000 and when this reporter checked his channel, a horse racing video from four years ago with a title translating as “A terminally addicted male gambler” had garnered close to a million views.


Fujino had worked as a craftsman in an interior decorating business run by his parents who lived in the same building and had been given a monthly salary of just under 200,000 yen (about $1,280), but he managed to earn around 250,000 yen (roughly $1,600) per month from video streaming. He had not shown up at interior decorating job sites over the past two years or so.


When questioned by public prosecutors about his motive for dabbling in online casinos, he replied, “I wanted more subscribers.” From April 2022 on, he became hooked on baccarat, and livestreamed games online. As the content went to extremes, subscribers increased. Even though his streaming stopped after being arrested and detained, his channel had around 124,000 subscribers as of 10 a.m. on May 8.


Fujino said he was aware that gambling was illegal in Japan, but when he saw ads featuring celebrities, he “thought it would be all right.” He was also emboldened by word among gamblers that there hadn’t been a single case where someone has been prosecuted.


The potential earnings were also alluring. “Compared to horse racing and other gambling, casinos offer a higher chance of winning money,” he said. Even when losses occurred, he continued gambling, believing he could “recover.” He wagered a total of about 1 billion yen (approx. $6.42 million), investing all his profits in gambling.


Prosecutors revealed the mechanism that made it hard to get out of this bottomless quagmire. It turned out that the casino site operators had paid him a portion of the money bet by those who saw his videos and accessed the site. He received 200 to 300 million yen (between around $12.8 million and $19.2 million) as “success rewards” over six months.


A turn of events came in September 2023, when another online casino user who was streaming his gambling activities was arrested. Fujino also started being frequently harassed, with unwanted items delivered to his home. He left Japan for Thailand in December that year. When he returned to Japan at the end of February this year, he was arrested by Ibaraki Prefectural Police on suspicion of habitual gambling. Until shortly before his return to Japan, he had been betting in an online casino on his smartphone, and was left with losses of about 80 million yen (around $514,000).


When a prosecutor asked Fujino, “Will you be able to stop gambling in the future?” he answered in a strained voice, “Even if I say ‘I won’t do it’ now, I’ll probably find myself doing it again. I won’t do it in Japan.”


Consultations for people with gambling disorder


The dangers of gambling addiction were highlighted by the recent illegal gambling allegations involving the former interpreter of Major League Baseball star Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers. In east Japan’s Ibaraki Prefecture, the location of the Mito District Court that found Fujino guilty, the prefectural mental health and welfare center offers consultations at (029) 243-2870 (in Japanese).


Even if a casino is operated legally overseas, accessing it from Japan could constitute a violation of the Penal Code. The National Police Agency has posted examples of previously exposed cases and the number of people apprehended on its website, and has warned, “Connecting to and gambling at online casinos from Japan is a crime.” A senior prefectural police official commented, “There may be people who spend money as if it’s a smartphone game.”


(Japanese original by Natsuki Nishi, Mito Bureau)

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