Ex-addict, pro player lay their cards on table

Mr Sachio Ooishi (with his wife and child) was a promising basketball player before becoming addicted to pachinko.
Mr Sachio Ooishi (with his wife and child) was a promising basketball player before becoming addicted to pachinko.PHOTO: COURTESY OF SACHIO OOISHI
Mr Arai Nobuki taught himself to be a professional casino gambler and now earns enough to travel and maintain his lifestyle.
Mr Arai Nobuki taught himself to be a professional casino gambler and now earns enough to travel and maintain his lifestyle.PHOTO: COURTESY OF ARAI NOBUKI

One was hooked on pachinko to the point of suicide; the other took a samurai approach to gambling. A recovering pachinko addict and a professional gambler tell The Straits Times their stories.

THE EX-ADDICT

Mr Sachio Ooishi, a 42-year-old electronic product sales manager, began playing pachinko at 17 and quit only 18 years later.

"At that time (at 17), my allowance was 3,000 yen (S$37) a month, so you can imagine how excited I was when I had 60,000 yen of winnings in my hands," he said.

"I was a star basketball player and captain for my high school and university. But when I couldn't get into my first-choice university, I played pachinko every day to escape from reality.

"When I started losing, I lied to borrow money from friends and family. Before I knew it, I had a debt of 300,000 yen when I was just 19.

"I tried to commit suicide, and I promised myself I would quit gambling if I lost the next time, but I never kept my promise.

"I came up with a big lie to get my parents to send me to the US, to chase my dream of becoming an NBA player. They agreed to sponsor me for a year and, with that money, I repaid my debts of over 600,000 yen before going to the US.

"I just wanted to escape from my debt and gambling because pachinko was all I could think about and I was only 20 then.

"Eventually, I had to go back to Japan after my lie was exposed. I entered university, but was behind my peers and had no friends. I worked part-time and spent my earnings on pachinko.

"When I graduated and got a job, I used card loans to fund my betting. The debt loop began and eventually, I gave up working in Japan because pachinko was everywhere.

"I managed to get a job in Australia at 25. I was happy there - no gambling, good salary and I got married. But my wife wanted us to return to Japan to have our child. I managed to get a job but I still wanted to play pachinko. I started rolling my debt with card loans.

"In 2010, when loan regulations got tighter and my debt limit was lowered, I had racked up a debt of 6 million yen. I realised then I needed to seek help. Last year, I managed to pay off all my debt and we had our first baby. I never want to go back to gambling."

THE PROFESSIONAL

Mr Arai Nobuki, who is in his mid-40s, has been a professional casino gambler for 20 years.

He studied how to win at blackjack for 13 hours a day, every day, for two years. He declines to say how much he earns.

"The difference between becoming a professional gambler and a gambling addict is being able to keep winning and to stop even while winning, if necessary.

"At 25, I prepared savings of 10 million yen from my previous sales job and was prepared to use it all, down to the last yen. It requires a do-or-die samurai spirit. Now I earn enough to travel and to support my lifestyle. Anything more than that has no meaning for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2017, with the headline 'Ex-addict, pro player lay their cards on table'. Print Edition | Subscribe