Casinos Must Stay Off-Limits to Koreans

Culture Minister Choung Byoung-gug was reported as saying in a breakfast meeting hosted by the Korean Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Wednesday that he wants access for Korean nationals to foreigner-only casinos in the country. When his comments triggered massive controversy, Choung said on Thursday, "My comment that it is unethical to allow foreigners only while barring locals from gambling facilities was misinterpreted as saying locals should be allowed in."

But Choung was wrong. The only reason casinos are allowed to operate in this country, which has prohibited gambling since the republic was founded, is to attract tourists from abroad. The Kangwon Land casino, which allows locals in, was created for the sole purpose of supporting the development of the decrepit coal mining region surrounding it.

There have been countless news reports about gambling addicts who lose all their money at the tables in the Kangwon Land casino. The prevalence of gambling addiction in Korea was 6.1 percent last year, much higher than in New Zealand (1.4 percent), Germany (1.2 percent) and the U.S. state of Arizona (1 percent).

A total of 39.54 million Koreans gamble at casinos, or bet on horse, bicycle and motor boat racing, while legitimate gaming businesses in the country generated W17.3 trillion (US$1=W1,077) in total revenues. In 2006, gambling parlors with computerized slot machines spread across the country and attracted so many gambling addicts that police had to shut them down.

Considering the amount of money wagered on illegal gambling websites, the size of the gaming industry in Korea is even bigger. A committee under the Prime Minister's Office in charge of supervising the gaming industry found that the prevalence of gambling addiction at casinos in 2010 was 85.6 percent. That shows how addictive it can be.

Allowing locals into casinos simply because 10 out of 16 foreigner-only casinos are losing money is putting the cart before the horse. The operators of these casinos promised to attract foreign visitors and used their personal connections to win government licenses. Now they are trying to make up for their failure to generate business by getting locals to gamble. They are in fact asking to ruin the lives of people to make up for their own incompetence. No Koreans should be allowed into casinos here.

englishnews@chosun.com / Jun. 24, 2011 13:27 KST