Govt must address problem of unregulated online casinos

The municipality of Abu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, mistakenly transferred ¥46.3 million in relief funds to a man living in the town, and the recovery of the money was in jeopardy at one point. The man was arrested, but the incident has shone a spotlight on many issues.

The municipality mistakenly transferred the money that was intended to be COVID-19 relief funds for 463 households. Even after it had realized the mistake, there was a delay in seizing the money, allowing the man to transfer the entire amount to entities, such as remittance service providers, over a period of about 10 days.

The man was arrested on suspicion of computer fraud and reportedly told investigators he had spent all the money in online casinos based overseas. In addition to the clerical error, the municipality bears a heavy responsibility for making the situation worse by delaying its response.

Other municipalities have made erroneous transfers of benefits and other payments. Not only Abu but also other local governments should learn a lesson from this incident and consider measures to prevent such blunders.

Couldn’t the financial institution that handled the COVID-19 benefit transfer have noticed this unusual transaction sooner? It is hoped that the current procedures will be checked.

Most of the erroneously transferred funds have been returned to the Abu municipality from remittance service providers. However, many matters remain unclear, such as whether the man actually used all of the money in online casinos. Police need to conduct a thorough investigation to clarify the flow of the funds.

Also problematic is the current situation in which the online casinos where the man allegedly spent a large sum of money in a short period of time are unregulated.

Gambling outside the framework of publicly licensed gambling businesses is prohibited in Japan. In the past, wrongdoings by online casino users and remittance service providers have come to light.

However, many online casino operators are based in countries where gambling is legal. As this makes it difficult to conduct investigations, police in Japan have not been able to fully grasp the situation.

The number of online casino users is said to have risen rapidly when people cut back on going out amid the coronavirus pandemic. Many users are believed to have gambled without being aware that it is illegal. The central government must look into the actual situation of online casinos and advance discussions on legal regulations and other related issues.

The current situation in which the internet is awash with casino websites and advertisements cannot be overlooked. Online gambling is illegal in Japan, but many operators have advertised their casinos with misleading expressions such as “legally operated.”

It is important for the central government to establish a system that will allow authorities to issue warnings or request website operators and internet service providers to delete such advertisements.

As online casinos are accessible 24 hours a day from smartphones from anywhere, many people are said to use them as if they were games. The risk of addiction has also been pointed out, because once people are hooked, it is difficult to stop.

It is also crucial to make it known widely that online gambling is a crime in Japan.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 28, 2022)