Bet-Crazy Koreans Could Be Let Loose on Casinos
South Korea, home to large numbers of problem gamblers, may throw open its foreigner-only casinos.
South Korea is a country where 16 of the 17 legal casinos are currently off-limits to locals, reserved instead for big-spending tourists. But as some Korean politicians seek to abandon this rule—Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Choung Byoung-gug recently called it an "absurdity"—a report on the one exception released Wednesday gives pause for thought. It covers 52,317 gamblers who visited Kangwon Land—a casino that's open to Koreans, housed in some abandoned mines in remote Gangwon Province—more than 13 times last year. Poverty is no barrier: At least 578 of the regulars rely on government benefits—yet this group clocked up many thousands of visits between them, with one losing an impressive 600 million Won (about $553,000) in just over three years. His problems may be far from over—a rule of thumb is that the larger the loss an addict suffers, the harder the habit is to kick. In one illustration of the general impact of problem gambling, used car prices in American casino cities are often lower than elsewhere—gamblers who sell vehicles to feed their habit or settle debts flood the market. South Koreans who lack casino action still bet enthusiastically—sometimes too enthusiastically—on sports: 40 K-League soccer pros got lifetime bans for a betting-related match-fixing scandal last week. And problem gambling extends to expat populations: Numerous South Korean students in the US reportedly work in restaurants to pay college tuition, having gambled away tens of thousands of dollars intended for the purpose. Like substance use, gambling can prompt the brain to secrete the pleasure-inducing hormone dopamine. Addicts who quit get withdrawal symptoms as secretions decrease, with anxiety and trembling among the hazards.