Feature: Is Korea Going to Allow Koreans in their Own Casinos?
Under current law, Koreans are allowed to pony up in only one of the country's 17 casinos. By opening them up to locals, large investors from abroad are ready to pour massive amounts of money into the industry. The tourism board is already lining up behind it. So, what's next?
SEOUL, South Korea --Of the more interesting government regulations is the one that makes gambling in Korean casinos officially off limits to Koreans. While there are two national lotteries Lotto and Toto, horse, motor and cycle racing, ponying up anywhere else is strictly off limits.
Of Korea's 17 legally operated casinos, only Gangwon Land, located in a remote mining area of Gangwon province, allows those with a Korean passport to enter. Interestingly, not only are all but one of the country’s casinos closed to locals, but so are those in the rest of the world, with current law making it a crime for Korean citizens to gamble abroad—though it is law rarely enforced.
These strict gambling regulations might all be changing soon as increased pressure mounts from investors looking to cash in on the world’s 15th largest economy and the government looks for ways to increase tourism.
Yesterday, during a symposium sponsored by the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) in Seoul, Sheldon Adelson, chairman of the Las Vegas Sands, pushed the Korean government to rewrite current law so giant gambling conglomerates such as his can set up shop here.
“In Singapore, for instance, we invested $3 billion from 2005 to open the Marina Bay Sands resort in 2010. We can make much more of an investment in Korea.”
KTO President Lee Charm has thrown his support behind the idea.
“The resorts in Las Vegas in the United States, alone, can accommodate 5 million tourists, compared to 250,000 in Korea. Besides exports of automobiles and IT products, Korea now needs to focus on the construction of large-scale (tourist) infrastructure,” he said.
The idea of opening the country up to gambling is not without criticism. The reverend Kim Kyu-ho is just one of the ardent voices against allowing Koreans to gamble on the peninsula.
“Since there is no safety net to prevent gambling addiction, we should not allow the expansion of the gambling industry.”
Kim cites stats showing that even with limited access to gambling, Koreans still maintain a high addiction level to games of chance.
“Korea's rate of gambling addiction is 6.1 per cent of the whole population, about 3,000,000, people. This rate is up to triple that of advanced countries such as the US, Australia, and Canada.”
Kim added: “The expansion of gambling industries may promote tourism, increase tax revenues, help job creation and revitalize local economies, but we must consider the harmful effects of the expansion of the casino industry, such as losing the true meaning of labour, destruction of families, and murders and robbery to raise money to gamble with.”
Singapore also faced the same dilemma as Korea. The government there was at first opposed to allowing locals to gamble, but with the abundance of wealth, citizens would, much like Koreans, simply gamble in other countries rather than at home.
"We seriously considered banning Singaporeans altogether from gambling, but decided against it. This is because there is no reason to exclude locals who can afford to gamble and would otherwise just go elsewhere,” a government report stated.
Further reading: Gambling Row Hits South Korean Monks (BBC)
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