Pachinko Balls

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Pachinko Balls

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Inexpensive Pachinko Ball Hopper

History

Prewar pachinko machine.

Mechanical pachinko machine from the 1970s.

A modern, electronic pachinko machine in a Tokyo parlor.

Pachinko machines were first built during the 1920s as a children's toy called "corinth game" (, korinto gmu?); based on and named after an American game called "Corinthian Bagatelle". Pachinko then emerged as an adult pastime in Nagoya around 1930. All of Japan's pachinko parlors were closed down during World War II, but re-emerged in the late 1940s and have remained popular since then. Taiwan also has many pachinko establishments due to Japan's influence during their occupation in the early 1900s.

Until about 1980, pachinko machines were mechanical devices. These machines are gravity-fed, meaning that the balls always flow downward, except when powered by a human: either the player shooting a ball, or an employee opening up the cabinet and putting more balls in the feeder bin at the top. When the player wins, a bell is rung by the mechanical action of the newly acquired balls flowing through the machine. Electricity (10 volts DC) is used only to flash a light when the player wins and to indicate problems, such as a machine that has been emptied of its balls. The player launches balls using a chrome flipper, and can control the speed of the balls to some extent by pulling the flipper down to different levels. The front panel has a tray for balls that are ready to be played, a tray into which balls can be emptied when the player is ready to quit, and an ashtray. Manufacturers in this period included Nishijin and Sankyo. Most machines available on online auction sites today date to the 1970s.

Starting around 1980, pachinko machines began to incorporate more and more electronic features, and began to require electricity for operation. Rather than a mechanical chrome flipper, these machines have a round knob that can be rotated to control the speed of the balls.

How it works

Entrance to pachinko parlor in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan.

There are many types of pachinko machines and parlor regulations, but most of them conform to a similar style of play. In order to play pachinko, players can buy metal balls by inserting either cash, a pre-paid card, or their member's card directly into the machine they want to use. At parlors offering an exchange rate of 4 yen per ball, 1000 yen (around $10.00 USD) will get you 250 balls. These balls are then shot into the machine from a ball tray with the purpose of attempting to win more balls. The pachinko machine has a digital slot machine on a large screen in the center of its layout, and the objective here is to get 3 numbers or symbols in a row for a jackpot.

Originally, pachinko machines had a spring-loaded lever for shooting the balls individually, but modern machines use a round "throttle" that merely controls how strongly an electrically fired plunger shoots the balls onto the playfield. When shot, the balls drop through an array of pins/nails. While most balls simply fall through to the bottom of the pachinko layout, occasionally some will fall into the center gate and start up the digital slot machine in the center screen. Every ball that goes into the start-up gate results in one spin of the slot machine, and the maximum amount of "credit" at any given time is 4 spins. This spin credit system is required because it is often the case that a ball will go into the center gate while a spin of the slot machine is still in progress. Each spin typically pays out 3 balls, but the ultimate goal is to hit the jackpot and win a lot more. Contrary to popular belief, the program of the digital slot machine decides whether the player has a jackpot or not the moment a ball activates it, not when the numbers or symbols are actually spinning.

Payout mode

During the spinning of the slot machine, when the first 2 numbers or letters of the spin match up the digital program will almost always enter into "reach mode" where many animations and movies are then shown before the final outcome is known just to give the player a boost of added excitement. Most pachinko machines offer different odds in hitting a jackpot, ranging from 1 in 40 to 1 in 480. However, the most common set of odds among today's machines are 1 in 100, 1 in 300, 1 in 350, and 1 in 400. If the player does manage to get 3 numbers or symbols in a row to obtain a jackpot the machine will enter into "payout mode."

Depending on what type of pachinko machine is being played, the payout mode usually lasts for 15 "rounds." During each round, amidst more animations and movies playing on the center screen, a large payout gate opens up at the bottom of the machine layout and the player must try to shoot balls into it. Each ball that successfully enters into this gate results in around 12 balls being paid out into a separate tray at the bottom of the machine, which can then be placed into a ball bucket for the player to do with as he or she wishes. The average total payout per jackpot is around 1250 balls, or 5000 yen worth.

Kakuhen and Jitan

After the payout mode has ended, the pachinko machine may do one of two things. Almost all of them employ the kakuhen system, which is where half of the possible jackpots on the digital slot machine (usually the odd number combinations like 111, 333, 555, etc.) result in the odds of hitting the next jackpot improving by 10 fold, for instance, from 1 in 350 to 1 in 35. Common kakuhen percentages offered by pachinko machines are 65%, 75%, and 80%, but some machines, such as Burst Angel offer odds up to 93%. When a jackpot is reached, a random number generator will produce a number between 0 and 100 to see if that particular jackpot will result in a kakuhen. Hence, under the kakuhen system, it is possible for a player to get 3, 10, or even more consecutive jackpots after the first "hard earned" one. Such a streak of jackpots is commonly referred to as being in "fever mode."

Another type of kakuhen system is the "special time" kakuhen, which is referred to as a "ST machine." With these pachinko machines, every jackpot earned results in a kakuhen, but, in order to earn a payout beyond the first jackpot, the player must then hit a certain set of odds within a given amount of spins. For instance, a particular machine may require a player to hit a 1 in 10 jackpot odds within 5 spins. Another example would be having to hit a 1 in 43 jackpot odds within 74 spins.

When an original jackpot or any subsequent jackpot is not a kakuhen combination, then the pachinko machine will enter into "jitan mode," which typically last for 100 spins. Here, over the next 100 spins, under the original payout odds, a "blossom" opens up near the center gate to make it considerably easier for balls to fall into it. This blossom assist system is also present when the player is in kakuhen mode. To compensate for the sudden increase in the number of spins over both of these periods, the digital slot machine will produce the final outcomes of each spin much more quickly, typically within 1 second. ST pachinko machines typically do not offer any sort of jitan mode.

Once the jitan mode has ended at 100 spins and no more jackpots have been made, the pachinko machine will revert back to its original setting.

Video Shot in the 40's of a Pachinko Parlor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bppMmVP58NE

Video shot in the 50's of a Pachinko Parlor and show how everything worked. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ0psgHs2B8

Machine design and payouts

This section does not cite any references or sources.

Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (October 2008)

A pachinko machine in a Tokyo parlour.

Machines vary in decoration, colors, lights, music, modes, as well as gate size, gate collectors size, the speed at which gate collectors open and close, and gate placement. Some machines simply have more, activate more, or have larger or more accessible gates than others allowing more balls in. Also, most machines have customizable settings inside the machine (accessible by parlour workers only) to pay out more balls (changeable random number generator multiplier settings for each mode) or changeable mode lengths, allowing for a high level of customization. All these factors keep things interesting and lead to long time pachinko enthusiasts to the belief that certain machines are "good" and have been tweaked to have very high payout settings. Different parlours have different types of machines and different settings, so enthusiasts may switch parlours if they are unsatisfied with any particular one.

Pachinko machines vary greatly in the odds of hitting a jackpot, number of payout rounds, number of balls per payout, odds of getting a kakuhen, and number of rounds in jitan mode. The most common difference are the typical "old-school" machines that are hard to get jackpots on but pay out a lot, and the "ama-deji" or "yu-pachi" machines that are easier to win on but pay out relatively little (typically one-third the amount of the former). Old-school pachinko machines average about 1 in 350 odds of hitting a jackpot, 15 rounds per payout, 1250 balls per payout, 60-80% odds of a kakuhen, and 100 rounds in jitan mode. In comparison, the ama-deji/yu-pachi machines offer around 1 in 100 odds of hitting a jackpot, 5 rounds per payout, 450 balls per payout, 50% kakuhen, and 25-50 rounds in jitan mode. At present, the old-school pachinko machines are the choice of hard gamblers while the ama-deji-yu-pachi machines cater to those who just want to play pachinko for fun rather than profit, even though a person can still win a considerable amount of money on any good machine.

Koatari (Two-Round Jackpots) and Senpuku (Hidden Kakuhen)

Starting in 2007, the majority of Japanese pachinko machine manufactuers started to include what are referred to as koatari into their payout systems, which is a "small" jackpot that lasts for two rounds in addition to the normal jackpots (ooatari) that are offered. Even though koataris officially count as a two round jackpot, during payout mode the payout gate opens up each time for only 0.8 seconds even if no balls go into it. Moreover, the timing of when the payout gates opens during a koatari is unpredictable, which effectivelly makes it a jackpot where the player receives no payout whatsoever. Like normal jackpots in pachinko, koatari jackpots can result in a kakuhen depending on the payout scheme of the machine in question.

The main purpose of incorporating koataris into pachinko machines is so that pachinko manufactuers can offer payout schemes that appear to be largely favorable to customers. For instance, a standard machine that offers only 15 rounds of payout per jackpot may offer odds of 1 in 310 with a 55% of getting a kakuhen. In comparison, if that same machine was designed so that only 80% of kakuhen jackpots lasted for 15 rounds in payout while the rest were kakuhen koataris, the manufactuers could boost the kakuhen odds up to 70% without losing any long-term profit in the payout design. Hence, it is advisable that players carefully check the payout schemes of the pachinko machines they wish to play in order to decide whether or not they really appear to be profitable to play.

In addition to being able to offer higher kakuhen percentages, koatari make it possible for pachinko makers to design highly popular "battle-type" machines, such as Fist of the North Star, Kamen Rider, Ultraman, Kinnikuman, and so forth. Unlike old-fashioned pachinko machines that offer a full payout or a kakuhen for any type of jackpot earned, battle-type pachinko machines differ in that they require players to hit a kakuhen jackpot in order to get a full payout. For instance, if a battle-type machine offers an 82% of a kakuhen (70% ooatari and 12% kakuhen koatari) while the other 18% is a normal koatari, the player must hit the 82% in order to go into or stay in kakuhen mode. This is typically orchestrated by the player entering into "kakuhen battle mode" after the first kakuhen jackpot is reached, which is where the player, in accordance with the anime, movie, tv show, or manga series that machine is based on, must "defeat" a cerain enemy or foe in order to earn another kakuhen koatari or kakuhen jackpot. If, however, the player loses a particular battle, this usually means that he or she has hit a normal koatari and the machine will then enter into jitan mode. The added excitement of players "battling" to earn a string of consecutive kakuhen jackpots is what makes such machines highly popular in today's pachinko industry.

Another major reason for incorparting koataris into pachinko play is that they make it possible for a machine to go into kakuhen mode without the player's knowledge. This is referred to as a senpuku (hidden) kakuhen because it occurs in normal mode and is not accompanied with a blossom assist system, or it is present during jitan mode. Hence, with the senpuku kakuhen it is possible for a player to sit at a used pachinko machine that offers 1 in 400 chances of hitting a jackpot in normal mode but hit a jackpot within 40 spins relatively easily because the previous player did not realize that he or she was in kakuhen mode. The possible presence of senpuku kakuhen in a pachinko machine induces players to keep playing their machines even though they may still be in normal mode

In response to the incorporation of koataris into pachinko play, Japanese pachinko players have not shown any significant signs of protest. On the contrary, battle-type pachinko machines have become a major part of most parlors in Japan.

Strategies

Like in all gambling, the odds of any Pachinko machine can be assumed to be in favor of the house (which is a company that could not exist otherwise). According to the law of large numbers, the individual odds of any player will inevitably tend towards these overall odds with prolonged play. So in a mathematical sense, there clearly is no winning strategy for Pachinko (see also: probability theory, determinacy); however, winning strategies exist in a cultural sense, e.g. in that they are traded, discussed and followed by many people.

Inside information

In Japan, many books and magazines offer advice on how to earn a living playing pachinko. The variety of help ranges from simple tips to systematically finding a way to outsmart the parlors, but it is recommended that all players develop their own personal methods for winning as nothing is guaranteed. One of the most surefire strategies is to have an inside source tell the player which pachinko machines have the highest settings. Some pachinko establishments offer such information as an incentive for joining their club membership, but it is always difficult to be able to use it to one's advantage as there is a high level of competition among fellow members to get their hands on good machines. On any given day, there is usually a long line of people waiting outside pachinko parlors hours before they are set to open. Also, given the fact that most parlors hold lotteries to see who the first hundred people to enter the parlor will be every morning, the odds of being able to get a good machine even with inside information are not so favorable.

Observing trends

On a similar note, by observing trends in how particular parlors distribute good paying machines throughout their entire layout on a given day of the week, the player can make a pretty good guess at where they are when the need arises. This becomes especially vital when the player picks his or her machine at the start of the day's gambling, for, as pachinko has become very popular since the start of the 21st century, it is often the case that all the good machines are taken just after the parlors open in the morning.

The waiting game

One of the most popular and well-practiced pachinko strategies is to stay at one single machine for the entire time the parlor is open even if it is not at a high setting. The logic behind this is that although the machine the player is at may be programmed to give the player a loss of 30% over the long-run, the player should keep playing at the machine to minimize his or her losses and, maybe, if the player is lucky enough, gain a small margin of profit. As a means to demonstrate this point, it has been observed[who?] many times that in the rare instance a particular pachinko machine goes over 1000 spins without any jackpots, it usually then shortly enters into kakuhen mode if someone continues to play it (within the next few hundred spins), which can last for 5 or more jackpots. One common explanation for this phenomenon is that some parlor managers may, albeit illegally, manipulate their machines as people are using them to give them a decent amount of jackpots once they confirm that they have lost a great deal of money just so that no potential future patronage is lost. Of course, many amateur players do not have the time or financial backing to gamble in this fashion, but they may be apt to try their luck if they find a pachinko machine that has gone over 1000 spins without providing any jackpots.

Selective play

Another common strategy is to only play machines that have layouts which make it relatively easy to get balls into the center gate. Thus, even though your success still depends greatly on the machine's settings, by being able to spin the digital slot machine a greater number of times with the same given amount of balls, you are giving yourself a greater chance to hit a jackpot and/or kakuhen. Evaluating the spacing and angles of the nails that formulate the pachinko machine's layout are crucial to this strategy.

Winnings

Pachinko balls

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Winnings take the form of additional balls, which the player may either use to keep playing or exchange for tokens (typically slits of gold encased in plastic); vouchers; or a vast array of prizes. First, when players wish to exchange their winnings, they must call a parlor staff member by using the call button located at the top of the machine they used. The staff member will then carry the player's balls to an automated counter to verify how many they have. After recording the number of balls the player won and the number of the machine he or she used, the staff member will then give the player either a voucher or card with the number of balls inputted into it. It is this voucher or card that the player must hand in at the parlor's exchange center to get their tokens or prizes.

Some prizes are as simple as pens or cigarette lighters; others can be electronics, bicycles, 50

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