The Alpensia Resort located outside of PyeongChang, South Korea, has been the center of it all for the 2018 Winter Olympics. The resort, much like one you would see in the United States, is a complex of hotels and restaurants, a water park, a ski resort, and a casino.

The casino, however, is not welcoming to all. Though the Alpensia Resort is clearly marked and is not so subtly advertised, South Koreans themselves are not allowed to enjoy it. Signs throughout the resort point way to the casino, which is connected to the lobby of a Holiday Inn.

Dan Wolken from USA Today ventured inside to see what the casino. The American reporter said that not much was happening inside besides a “few guys from the NBC crew playing blackjack.”

Of course, all gamblers were foreigners. The only Koreans in the casino were the ones who worked there.

Alpensia Casino Had No Players

On second take, very few people inside were actual gamblers. The casino has a dozen card tables, the majority featuring baccarat. Most of those tables, plus the roulette wheel, were empty. The electronic slot machines that lined the walls did not have a single person playing, according to Wolken.

The reporter, who admits to being a casino gambler, said his experience at the casino in South Korea “wasn’t the best”.

Of course, a casino full of baccarat tables caters to Asian gamblers, especially Chinese players. Though Americans, Australians, and Japanese tend to flock to gaming machines, a few blackjack tables might have helped — but probably not. The real reason no one was playing was the lack of local players.

South Korean Gambling Laws

The Kangwon Land Casino and Hotel is the only South Korean casino (out of 23) that allows legal gambling by residents of South Korea. The casino is located in a secluded area nearly 55 miles outside of Pyeongchang. The remote location is seen as patronizing to South Koreans, because it is in a remote, woebegone mining area that is not easy to get to from Seoul – which has about 40% of South Korea’s population.

Every other casino is only open to foreigners – and most of those are on Jeju Island off the southern coast of South Korea. In fact, South Korea’s gaming laws are so strict, Koreans cannot legally gamble, even if they leave the country.

Casino gambling is still illegal, regardless of whether they are in South Korea or on the Strip in Las Vegas. A famous South Korean pitcher in the Nippon Baseball League was recalled from Japan to answer charges he gambled in Macau, where it is legal for a person such as him to gamble. The scandal ended his NBL career.

What Can South Koreans Gamble On?

However, South Koreans can legally gamble on certain select games. Sports like horse racing, boat racing, and cycling are allowed, mostly because they are the kind of wagers enjoyed by the country’s economic elite. It is thought by the government such gamblers have the wherewithal to sustain gaming losses.

One attorney questioned by Dan Wolken, under conditions of anonymity, said, “It’s a very sensitive issue for the general public. I haven’t seen any recent poll, but still there are some negative opinions on the casino industry, so it wouldn’t be easy for the government to liberalize the regulation on casino industry.”

Korean Center on Gambling Problems

The Korea Center on Gambling Problems, established by the government in 2012, said that in 2016, the rate of gambling addiction in South Korea was 5.1%. The estimate is “two to three times higher than gambling addiction rates in major foreign nations,” according to Wolken, which raises some doubts to its veracity.

The number of adult problem gamblers in South Korea is over 1.97 million, according to the center. Though it is not clear how these statistics are exactly generated, the idea that Koreans seem to be slightly more prone to gambling addiction is a widespread social theory that has influenced the laws over the decades.

Misinformation and urban legends are typical of an activity that is driven underground, which is what appears to have happened in South Korean gambling.

Foreign Casino Investments

However, South Korea still wants a boosted local economy. So, they still build casinos throughout the country regardless of their laws for their residents. Though the country shames its own people in playing a round of poker, they have made room for several casinos spread throughout the country for foreigners to come and enjoy.

Because as much as the South Korean government sees gambling as problematic, there desire to build an industry around it catered to foreigners seems to be greater.

The attorney told Wolken, “There are some conflicting ideas in order to induce more foreign capital into Korea. We need to liberalize casino regulations, because the foreign investors may develop the areas and increase job numbers and ultimately promote the Korean economy. But many people’s reaction is that positives are limited and there are more side effects.”

Foreign investors are interested. Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts each have discussed building resorts in South Korea, though they would prefer a resort in Incheon (near Seoul) to one in the casino island of Jeju. Chinese, Philippine, and Malaysian companies have built in South Korea.

Jeju Island Casinos

Jeju Island is home to 9 out of the 23 South Korean casinos. The Island is covered with resorts and casino-hotels, making it a very popular place for foreigners, especially Chinese gamblers from northeastern China. The island holds more than 855 slots and gaming machines and of 512 table games.

The largest casino and hotel on the Island is the Jeju Dream Tower Casino. It holds nearly 400 gaming machines and over 200 tables games.

A new “foreigners-only casino” is set to open on Jeju Island this week. According to its plans announced back in 2015, it will hold close to 1,600 rooms and be the tallest tower on the island. Though the casinos don’t scream “welcome” to South Koreans themselves, the island is a hotspot for foreigners from all around.

Except near PyeongChang, where casinos do not seem to have grabbed the locals’ attention.

About the Author
April Bergman avatar
April Bergman

April Bergman was a longtime news blogger for BOC. She wrote gaming news posts from January 2013 until September 2018. April also wrote slot reviews, strategy articles, and online casino reviews for the site.

April Bergman began in the online gaming industry in August 2010. From 2010 to 2013, she managed evergreen content for several top online casino. Her duties included developing and maintaining multiple websites in the gaming space. When not writing about online gambling, April loves horse racing, travel, photography, and gardening. She's began in the business as a devoted poker players and spent several years as a card game editor on the now-defunct DMOZ. These days, she lives with her husband and two children in the Toronto metropolitan area.

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April Bergman was a longtime news blogger for BOC. She wrote gaming news posts from January 2013 until September 2018. April also wrote slot reviews, strategy articles, and online casino reviews for the site.

April Bergman began in the online gaming industry in August 2010. From 2010 to 2013, she managed evergreen content for several top online casino. Her duties included developing and maintaining multiple websites in the gaming space. When not writing about online gambling, April loves horse racing, travel, photography, and gardening. She's began in the business as a devoted poker players and spent several years as a card game editor on the now-defunct DMOZ. These days, she lives with her husband and two children in the Toronto metropolitan area.

READ MORE
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