Why Japan and India are ripe for Bitcoin Gambling

23 September, 2020

Attendees of the recent SBC Barcelona Digital Summit heard plenty about the future of sports betting around the world. They also learned quite a bit about online gambling in general, including the fact that Japan and India both appear to be ripe for more development of Bitcoin gambling.

Though the direction Asia takes on any issue can be tough to predict, there seems to be some agreement among experts that opportunities exist.

Of course, simply discussing potential in Japan and India doesn't get anything done. If operators decide to make a play for Bitcoin gambling in both markets, the results could be interesting. At the very least, it would give the rest of the world a clear understanding of how the gambling public in Asia uses cryptocurrency.

Gambling and cryptocurrency in Japan

Traditional casino gambling is not allowed in most parts of Japan. However, the Japanese government did agree to license three land-based casinos a couple of years ago. That is a step in the right direction. But really, the good vibes about Japan are rooted in the popularity of online lotteries and sports betting. Gamblers continue to show great interest in those options.

Overall, it seems as though Japan's reservations about gambling are beginning to ease somewhat. Meanwhile, cryptocurrency is slowly being accepted by citizens and government leaders alike. Consumers seem to be especially interested in Bitcoin, though it is unclear why. Meanwhile, the resignation of Prime Minister Abe and subsequent election of his replacement, Yoshihide Suga, signals potential good things for cryptocurrency in general.

Suga previously served as chief cabinet secretary for a time. In 2014, while in that position, he made statements indicating his belief that Bitcoin is a commodity rather than a currency. He has also long supported taxing cryptocurrencies. Both viewpoints are good in the sense that Suga sees legitimacy in cryptocurrency as an asset.

A new way of thinking

Suga's ascension to power is likely to usher in a new way of thinking in Japan. The country appears to be poised to refocus political and economic decisions on the younger generation and the technology that this generation brings to the table. The new prime minister is expected to embrace initiatives started under his predecessor, including something known as Society 5.0.

Society 5.0 is essentially a vision for a digitized economy. It encompasses everything from fintech to digital currencies and artificial intelligence. Government support of blockchain development is a big part of the initiative. Especially encouraging for cryptocurrency are regulatory changes to Japan's Payment Services Act and Financial and Exchange Act, changes that directly affect how cryptocurrency businesses and business activities are regulated.

What it all boils down to is an understanding that younger Japanese citizens are very open to cryptocurrencies as payment systems. While their older counterparts prefer fiat and traditional banking systems, younger people see cryptocurrency as just a new way of looking at money in the digital era.

When you combine emerging thinking on both cryptocurrency and online gambling, you begin to see how just a few policy changes here or there could open up the door for a huge wave of Bitcoin gambling development in Japan. Things are already pointing in the right direction. It shouldn't take much to get the ball rolling.

Gambling and cryptocurrency in India

Gambling in India is a mixed bag as well. Strict regulations make it difficult for casino operators to do business in all but three states: Goa, Daman, and Sikkim. The bright spot in India is the freedom states have to regulate gambling as they see fit. That freedom has allowed dozens of operators to flourish in the three states where they are allowed to do so.

Online gambling is a bit of a gray area. Offshore operators are generally allowed to offer online opportunities to Indian citizens as long as they make it possible for players to deposit rupees. Furthermore, some of the land-based casinos operating in the previously mentioned states also offer online options as well. It could be that there are more online opportunities available across India than land-based.

The tricky part is the payment issue. Indian law clearly requires offshore operators to offer rupee payments to Indian gamblers. The law is not as clear about whether or not gamblers are required to use rupees. Could they deposit Bitcoin instead? Could they withdraw in BTC?

A litany of payment solutions

India has one thing going for it: the country already offers a litany of payment solutions. If there is one thing that Indian consumers are not afraid of, it is exploring new ways to pay for things including using Google Pay for gambling as reported in this article by Surewinner.com. Even though many parts of India's economy still run mainly on cash, younger consumers are happy to use everything from debit cards to smartphone payment apps. It is inevitable that merchants will have to adjust as younger consumers gradually become the ones holding the most economic power.

The question then becomes how long it takes for India's government to catch up. Back in 2018, the Reserve Bank of India made a move to stop cryptocurrency in its tracks by prohibiting any and all businesses it regulates from dealing in Bitcoin transactions. That instantly cooled investor interest in cryptocurrencies.

Things took a turn for the worse in 2019 when a select government panel recommended banning all cryptocurrencies outright. In the absence of such a ban, the committee recommended that cryptocurrencies at least be heavily regulated.

How is this good news for Bitcoin in India? Well, so far, the committee's recommendations have gone nowhere. Lawmakers do not seem to be in any hurry to either ban or regulate cryptocurrency. The longer they wait, the better the situation.

Adapting to changing attitudes

Looking at Japan and India makes it clear that it is tough to predict the future of cryptocurrency and online gambling in Asia. Japan essentially has a new government that hasn't tipped its hand one way or the other. Prognosticators can only rely on past actions to figure out what might happen in the future. In India, the unpredictability of politics has long made it impossible to predict what might happen.

In both cases though, what we are looking at are nations in the midst of adapting to changing attitudes. For generations, Japanese and Indian laws have been rooted in centuries of tradition. It is difficult to embrace things that undermine those traditions. But ultimately, most traditions eventually fade away into memories.

Japan may be in the early stages of one of the most important transformations in its history. Technology is a big part of that. As the younger generation has embraced digital technology and all of its implications, many older traditions are showing signs of erosion. Whether that is good or bad depends on your perspective. In terms of online gambling and Bitcoin, allowing old traditions to be put to rest seems like a good thing.

In India, changes are more about the masses than the actual traditions. Gambling has historically been restricted in India because of the belief that it only encourages crime. But India also has a long history of moving in whatever direction the masses take it. If the masses want legalized gambling, the government could eventually acquiesce.

The epicenter of change

India's potential is so great that Facebook named it as one of its first targets for their proposed Libra stablecoin. And even though Facebook's plans have been put on hold, they have not changed their perspective on India. They believe that getting a foothold in India's emerging cryptocurrency market would propel their proprietary stablecoin to the top of the heap. If Facebook officials believe that, it's likely other cryptocurrency players believe the same thing.

It could very well be that India becomes the epicenter of change in Asia. Imagine a plethora of offshore gambling operators flooding the Indian market over the next several years. Imagine India's other states looking at the gambling revenues generated by the three states that allow casino gambling and wanting to get it on the game.

It seems highly likely that, barring any direct government intervention, cryptocurrency will eventually be so entrenched in Indian economics that getting rid of it will be impossible. Such a scenario would lead to more retailers accepting Bitcoin payment from consumers. And as the strength of the younger generation increased, so would the availability of crypto payments.

All speculation right now

Of course, all of this is speculation right now. Even the experts who talked about Asia at the SBC Barcelona Digital Summit admitted that it is difficult to predict what Japan and India will do with either gambling or Bitcoin. But let us assume the potential really does exist. What then?

Developing that potential lies at the feet of cryptocurrency developers, the fintech industry, and offshore gambling operators. They are the ones who hold the cards. They are the ones who will have to influence government regulators to embrace the digital future.

They might be helped by a growing sentiment in favor of digital currencies. And of course, the effects of the coronavirus crisis could be leveraged to promote cryptocurrencies in general, and Bitcoin gambling more specifically. So yes, there is some potential there. Now it is up to the right people to seize the opportunity and run with it.