Pachinko (パチンコ) is a device used for gambling, described as a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine. It is said to have been invented sometime after World War II in Nagoya, though the date is sometimes questioned. They are widespread in Japan, in establishments called pachinko parlors, which also often feature a small number of slot machines.
The player purchases a large number of small steel balls which are inserted, in bulk, into the machine. The only control that the player has is how quickly the balls are released. The steel balls then drop onto a sequence of pins, and eventually simply fall through, but occasionally falling into certain holes where the machine triggers a three-wheel slot machine. If the slot machine comes up three-of-a-kind, the machine pays out a jackpot of a large number of balls, which the player may use to keep playing, or take them to a prize counter where they may select a prize. Cash cannot be paid out according to Japanese law, but players may request specially-marked prizes that they can then exchange for cash at centres located near the parlors. Such pseudo-cash gambling is theoretically illegal in Japan, and so the exchanges are run by organised crime. Arrests for partaking in such exchanges are unknown, however.
Pachinko parlors share the reputation of slot machine dens and casinos the world over—garish decoration, over-the-top architecture, the smell of tobacco, and players entranced for hours in their games. Pachinko has apparently thrived through Japan's recession of the 1990s, but it may struggle to attract younger players in future.
See also: bean machine