Photo/IllutrationChief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, right, speaks at a meeting of Cabinet ministers on countermeasures against gambling addiction in August. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Up to 700,000 Japanese are likely addicted to pachinko or other forms of gambling, according to the first nationwide interview survey on the subject.

On average, suspected gambling addicts bet 58,000 yen ($512) a month, and 80 percent of them spend their money mostly on pachinko and slot machines, the welfare ministry’s survey showed.

The government is considering legalizing casinos, but criticism has risen that Japan lacks sufficient countermeasures against gambling addiction compared with other countries.

“We will take steps, such as setting up counseling and medical centers, after taking into account the current circumstances,” a ministry official said.

The survey was conducted between May and September and covered 10,000 randomly selected people aged from 20 to 74. The ministry received 4,685 responses.

Respondents were asked 12 questions about their conduct over the past 12 months to gauge their dependence on gambling. One question, for example, was, “Have you gambled to make up for a previous gambling loss?”

The results showed that an estimated 0.8 percent of Japanese between 20 and 74, or 700,000, are likely addicted to gambling.

Around 1.5 percent of men and 0.1 percent of women are estimated to suffer from gambling addiction, according to the findings. The average age of suspected gambling addicts was 46.5.

An estimated 3.6 percent, or 3.2 million Japanese, are suspected of having suffered from gambling addiction at some point in their life.

Overseas studies conducted according to the same standards showed rates between 1 and 2 percent in many countries, meaning the figure for Japan is relatively high.

Sachio Matsushita, vice director of the National Hospital Organization’s Kurihama Medical and Addiction Center, which was involved in the survey, noted that it is “difficult to make a simple comparison because many nations carried out surveys by phone or other means.”

But he added, “The results could be attributed to the fact that gambling (such as pachinko) is closer to people in Japan than in other countries, allowing people to gamble anytime.”