September 22, 2009 07:24
Gambling addiction is becoming a serious social problem. According to a 2008 study by the Korea Culture & Tourism Institute, 9.5 percent of Korean adults had experienced trouble as a result of their gambling addiction.
That translates into 3.95 million who are addicted to gambling. Among them, 7.2 percent were classified as "serious" addicts who need immediate attention and 2.3 percent or around 870,000 people were "problematic" cases needing medical treatment.
Korea's prevalence rate compares to 2.9 percent in Canada, 2.4 percent in Australia and 4.1 percent in Singapore. It is even higher than the 6.4 percent in the U.S. state of Nevada, which includes Las Vegas.
"There is a strong tendency in our society to think of casinos and horse racing as ways to make money rather than leisure activities," said Cho Hyun-seob, head of the Korea Prevention and Cure Center for Gambling Problem. Another problem is the proliferation of illegal gambling sites on the Internet and off-line gambling parlors. "Many people, both men and women, become habituated to gambling through the Internet," said Park Eun-kyung, a counselor at the center.
But there barely any official help for gambling addicts. The only program available is an addiction prevention center run by the National Gaming Control Commission, which was established in 2007. The Korea Racing Authority, Kangwon Land casino and the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation each have their own prevention centers treating gambling addiction, but they have been criticized for lacking substance. In the case of Kangwon Land, for instance, gambling addicts who have been barred from the casino undergo just a few hours of group counseling sessions before they are admitted again.
Ontario, Canada, where 3.4 percent or 330,000 are addicted to gambling has allocated W21.7 billion (US$1=W1,206) a year to treat such people. In contrast, the Korea Prevention and Cure Center, which is responsible for treating 3.95 million gambling addicts, has a fig-leaf budget of just W2 billion a year.
"Korean law stipulates that at least 50 percent of funding for gambling addiction prevention programs must come from state coffers and the other half from casino operators, and this makes it hard to find the necessary budgets for prevention programs," said Kim Sung-yi, head of the National Gaming Control Commission. "In other countries, casino operators foot the entire bill."
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