Nintendo’s surprising history in gambling

Gambling in Japan is not yet legal, at least not in the general sense. Horse racing and pachinko machines are a dime a dozen, But you won’t see any casinos in the Land of the Rising Sun, at least not yet.

In December 2016, the Japanese parliament passed a new law that opens the door to the gambling industry, and a potential $30 billion a year industry.

That isn’t to say that the Japanese weren’t already obsessed with gambling beforehand, and we need only look at the video game industry to see that this is true.

Take Mario for example. Decades before our little red plumber came into existence, Nintendo was busy supplying their popular Hanafuda cards. As the legend goes Nintendo entered the business by providing cards for gamblers. Even as Gunpei Yokoi entered the company, Hanafuda was still a big part of Nintendo’s business.

Perhaps this history is why Nintendo would flirt with the idea of online gambling on the NES. While the project would never get off the ground, in 1991 Nintendo and the state of Minneapolis nearly teamed up to bring the Minnesota Lottery to the NES.

In the planned trial, 10,000 homes were to be outfitted with modem equipped and NES consoles. For a subscription of $10 per month, gamers would be given access to a cartridge that allowed access to the lottery system. There were even on-screen flourishes such as fisherman fishing for the lottery numbers.

The project was eventually scrapped before its implementation largely due to political pressures. Nintendo also had plans to introduce a stock trading service and an online gaming network for the console around the same time which were also canceled.

Of course Nintendo has never shied away from gambling in their video games. As a launch game for the Nintendo DS, the remake for Super Mario 64 simply titled Super Mario 64 DS featured  several gambling mini games. Amongst them are  a simple form of poker, a Super Mario themed slot machine, and a roulette table.

When New Super Mario Bros. released two years later, many of the same gambling mini-games were copied exactly from Super Mario 64 DS.This was a welcome addition as many players put as much time into the mini-games as the game itself.

Well before either game, or even the DS itself, Nintendo would see casino based games on their consoles. Hal Laboratory who has historically been closely associated with Nintendo released the game Vegas Stakes for the SNES. Going back even further, SOFEL released the game Casino Kid for the NES.

Luckily today it is much easier to play any number of casino games, many of which are online. While Nintendo has not yet released any such game on their newest platform the Nintendo Switch, one needs only look to their history to see that this idea is not impossible. Be it from Nintendo or an independent developer via the eShop, rest assured that for all you gamblers out there, you will be covered eventually.

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