Pachinko World draws visit from international pro

'Ponkotsu' thought he was coming to the U.S. to make money - but he also made a friend.

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WWAY) – In Wilmington lies a business that is literally one of a kind in the United States. But in other countries, it’s an every day thing that everybody plays, says the owner of Pachinko World.

Pachinko World boasts dozens of arcade-style gambling machines that are incredibly popular in Asia. It’s described as half upright pinball machine and a digital slot machine. Since it has an element of skill, that keeps it legal in Japan.

“It’s a lot more fun than a slot machine when you just hit a button and it’s over. This has intriguing things like that,” CEO and owner of the parlor Leo Daniels says as he chuckles and points to a machine glowing and flickering with lights, emitting sounds indicating the player had just won a jackpot. “Pachinko has a lot going on. There are mini games within the game. It keeps people entertained.”

He speaks highly of the game he’s always been a fan of.

“You can pass away a lot of time and not a lot of money playing.”

How did he become a fan? Another parlor used to be just down the street.

“The very first Pachinko parlor in America was in the ’70’s at in Carolina Beach on the board walk,” reflects Daniels. “I was a teenager. I fell in love with the game. I’ve been keeping up with it ever since.” So in June of 2015, he got his own.

The game has evolved from what he once knew, Daniels thinks for the better. When he learned, the machine had a handle that you manually flipped, with no lights or bells. Now, he owns machines with surround sound holograms of Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga in 4k projections.

“They’ve come a long way,” smiles Daniels.

But since Daniels’ 8-year-old parlor is now the only of a kind here, it’s an attraction for people like ‘Ponkotsu’

A Youtuber with almost 200,000 followers, Ponkotsu flew over 7,000 miles from Japan to visit the sole Panchinko parlor in the United States. He plays professionally and creates content from him playing. Thursday, he was at the parlor for hours. He admits he plays everyday. But it’s become more than a hobby – it’s now a profession.

Ponkotsu says he wants to spread Panchinko to the world.

He speaks broken english and spoke mostly through a translator, but understood when asked how good he was at the game:

“Top,” says Ponkotsu.

Other Japanese-based media outlets have flown down to south east North Carolina and written stories on the parlor before. The Pachinko World CEO says a man named Yuki Nakayama profiled the parlor in 2017 for one of the biggest magazines in Japan.

“He thought it was very intriguing a parlor was opening in America,” said Daniels. “And then other people from Japan started contacting us.”

From then on, a bond began between the two. He even helped design the layout of the parlor. Yuki would stay with Daniels during visits.

“We just became really good friends.”

“Yuki was a Pachinko extraordinaire. He loved the game, knew the game inside and out.”

In 2021, Yuki passed away from cancer.

Fast forward to today. Daniels has multiple patrons in the parlor (which he says are still not coming back at pre-pandemic numbers yet) and one of them is internationally famous.

How did Ponkotsu end up here?

“I got an email,” says Daniels. “They contacted me and gave me his YouTube channel. He says he wanted to come out and visit Pachinko World.”

“What I didn’t know until he got here today was that he was a friend of Yuki’s too.”

They shared pictures and stories of their mutual friend who has passed on, and has given Ponkotsu’s trip more significance to Daniels. Yuki passed away last year, but had a message delivered through Ponkotsu when he arrived at the Parlor Thursday.

“He sent a message to my wife that he appreciated her friendship,” smiles Daniels as he chokes up. “That was really touching.”

Ponkotsu will be at Pachinko World for a few more days. If you want to meet or watch one of the best play, find more information on the parlor here.

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