Russian Police Raid North Korean Casino in NPRK’s Moscow Embassy
Russian authorities are accusing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) diplomatic staff of operating an illegal casino on embassy grounds in Moscow. Russian news agency TASS reported that the gaming operation at the North Korean embassy was one of 15 illegal casinos raided in the past week in Moscow.
News reports suggest that the casino was operated out of “a building on the premises of the North Korean embassy.”
TASS reported that lawyers and diplomats were the clients at the casino. The gaming operation had heavy security and “multiple armed guards”.
The raid on the North Korean gambling operation was a part of a wave of raids conducted by Russian authorities over the past week. In all, over 80 homes and offices were searched. Over 100 suspects were arrested in the combined raids, though TASS did not mention if any North Korean staffers were detained.
Russians Raid North Korean Embassy
An embassy official for the DPRK disavowed knowledge of an underground casino. The unnamed official said, “This is not so. We know nothing about this.” The North Korean diplomat went on to say the claims were “complete nonsense” and the DPRK embassy was home to “nothing out of the ordinary”.
Despite the denials, the embassy raid is a part of a longstanding effort by Russian police to crack down on betting venues in the Russian Federation’s capital. The limitation of casino gambling is a part of the new Russian image that Vladimir Putin continues to push nearly 20 years after he took office.
The crackdown did not happen all at first, but after Putin began to appeal more to social conservatives in his country, he embraced the public image of a social reformer.
Putin’s 2000s Crackdown on Moscow Casinos
Gambling is illegal in most parts of Russia, including Moscow. In the Yeltsin era and early Putin years, Moscow was home to a large number of glitzy casinos. In 2006, Putin began to crack down on Moscow casinos, as he began to play to the Orthodox Church constituency in Russia.
In 2009, the Russian Federation passed new laws which banned casino gambling in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other Russian population centers. The 2009 law confined land-based gambling to 4 special administrative regions on the margins of Russia’s vast territories.
One of the special casino regions is in Kaliningrad, a part of former East Prussia which is not connected to the rest of the Russian Federation. Another special administrative region is in Primorye Krai in the Russian Far East, roughly 6,000 miles from Moscow. Primorye Krai is Russia’s primary region zone, as it is near China, Korea, and Japan — and the Russian port city of Vladivostok.
Crimean Casinos Closed Down
After the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, Vladimir Putin closed down three thriving casinos in the Azov region. Crimea is a traditional resort region, where Russians have taken vacations for generations. Instead, the Russian Federation fostered casino gambling in the Sochi region, which is said to be Putin’s favorite vacation spot. Sochi also was home to the 2014 Winter Olympics and famously had $50 billion of investment in hotels, facilities, and ski resorts.
Before the crackdown on Moscow’s casinos, the city had 58 casinos and 2000 smaller gaming rooms. Russians loved to gamble and it was estimated the city had as many as 70,000 slot machines. Even without casinos, the Russian Association of Gambling Business Development estimates that 500,000 Muscovites gamble each year.
North Korean Integrated Resort?
North Koreans also love gambling, if the little bit of knowledge we have about North Korean gaming habits can be believed. When Kim Jong-un had his Singapore summit with US President Donald Trump in June, it was reported that the North Korean leader wanted Americans to invest in an integrated resort if the summit lead to peace and accommodation on the Korean peninsula.
People laughed at Donald Trump discussing North Korea as a tourist destination with seaside resorts, but some reports suggested that Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands might have discussed a North Korean integrated resort with friends. A Las Vegas Sands spokesman later suggested that LVS was more interested in a South Korean casino-resort.
North Korean Gambling Initiatives
Even so, there are signs that Kim Jong-un thinks about gambling more than most dictators do. Last year, he authorized a horse racing event at which elite North Koreans were allowed to gamble. The year before, Kim floated a plan to convert cruise ships into North Korean casino cruises.
Also, the North Korean government has been accused of using its hackers to launch cyber-attacks on online gambling sites for the purposes of raising cash. Granted, these various schemes appear to be attempts by the North Korean government to raise revenues in the wake of much tougher sanctions over the past couple of years. They indicate that North Korea’s top leaders are no strangers to gambling.
Far East Casinos
The big problem with an integrated resort in North Korea is convincing tourists to visit the location. Cheap hotel rooms and good exchange rates only go so far. In the wake of the Otto Wambier tragedy, convincing tourists they will not be arrested for minor infractions would be a hard sell.
Russia’s Far Eastern casino, Tigre de Cristal, is opulent, but it has had trouble attracting enough gamblers, because tourists in the region are leery. That is why NagaCorp is busy building a $12 billion railway link between Vladivostok and Northern China, hoping to lure Chinese mass market gamblers to the Primorye Krai gambling enclave.