Panchinko poised to turn BS Group into pinball wizard

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The Independent Online

BS Group, the UK firm which has gained a foothold in the lucrative Japanese Pachinko market, is planning to bring the hugely popular game to British shores.

Panchinko, a uniquely Jap-anese version of pinball where small ball-bearings are fired on to a vertical playing board, is one of the favourite leisure activities there. Although played for prizes, the game has always attracted a booming black market which essentially turns it into one of Japan's main gambling activities.

From a population of 123 million, 18 million people are regular players, and the total industry has annual revenues of 28 trillion yen (£150bn). Since its invention in the 1930s the game has stayed firmly rooted in Japan, but BS believes it could turn out to be just as popular in Britain.

"We are exploring various ways to adapt it to the UK market," says BS chief executive Clarke Osborne. "It would need to be modified somewhat, but Britain is very receptive to new games and new ideas."

Panchinko has evolved to suit the peculiarities of the Japanese market. The vertical board was designed to save precious land space, and the game originally grew up from an industrial glut of ball-bearings.

But Mr Osborne is optimistic about the chances of bringing the game here, pending the outcome of the Gaming Review report later this year, which the gaming machines industry is expecting to lift some restrictions and clear the way to set up "parlours" of machines.

The gambling side of Panchinko, in which BS has no involvement, is the traditional preserve of the Japanese mafia – the Yakuza. But politicians have hinted that gambling on Panchinko could be legalised to raise taxes. "Such changes ... may be a few years away, but would be great for us," says Mr Osborne. "A Panchinko operation is lucrative when it is just for prizes, so with the gaming side added in, the income would be significant."

BS's entrance into the Panchinko market came through its recent purchase of one operation from Tokyo Plaza – a group which owns a string of parlours in Tokyo.