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A lot of countries try hard to keep their people from gambling, with varying degrees of success, but no one perhaps as well as North Korea. In fact it’s not even close, North Korea is the world’s champion at keeping their people segregated from the rest of the world and this extends into the world of gambling as well.
Leisure isn’t something that there is a lot of in North Korea in the first place, and the people there have enough to do to try to feed themselves and survive. In sharp contrast to their neighbors to the south, South Korea, which is a pretty affluent country and has the second largest economy in Asia next to Japan, North Korea is starkly destitute, and famously so.
So it’s not that North Korean people have money to gamble with in the first place, but if they did get caught gambling, well punishment for breaking the law is in a class by itself here. Not only do you become subject to being imprisoned, and imprisonment here is notoriously wicked, but when one is found guilty of a crime, not only do you get punished, but they punish your family as well, and North Korean law actually requires three generations to be punished when the law is broken. (1)
It’s not even known what the specific punishment for gambling is in North Korea, as this isn’t something that’s made public, but it’s a very bad idea to break the law here in general. One of the big accusations against North Korean leader Kim Jung-un’s uncle is that he was a gambler, and while it’s hard to say how much that played into his decision to put his uncle to death, it certainly was one of the things that was used to justify it, and when a leader has one of his own family executed for ill behavior you know that this is nothing to mess around with.
While gambling probably won’t get you executed here, you may end up in one of their so called labor camps, which are more like concentration camps, very much like them actually. Step out of line in one of these and you will indeed be executed, and people have been executed in these camps for as little as stealing a few kernels of corn to try to keep from starving.
Poker in North Korea
So this all is pretty effective as you might imagine in curtailing gambling among the North Koreans, and there isn’t even any gambling known to occur among the people. People do have a strong will to gamble in pretty much every part of the world, but when you take away their means and it also carries such a fierce punishment, that combination is a pretty effective one.
North Korea does have a couple of casinos though, but they are targeted exclusively at tourists, not that North Korea gets a lot of tourists mind you, but they do get some, particularly from China, where casinos are limited to Macau only. China is a pretty big country of course and if people don’t have to travel so far to gamble they will tend to prefer a closer option.
The Chinese government isn’t crazy about this though, in North Korea and in some other countries along their border who have enticed Chinese to come over to gamble, but China has quite a bit of influence in North Korea, and the casino near the border ended up being shut down. (2)
There are still 2 that remain though, and the North Koreans don’t mind gambling so much as long as it is foreigners that are doing the gambling. There isn’t any poker offered here though, and as it turns out, you can’t play poker anywhere in North Korea, period. (3)
Why There’s No Online Poker in North Korea
North Korea also has some online gambling sites, in spite of the fact North Koreans don’t have money to gamble online, don’t have internet access, and very few even have access to computers.
These sites were put up to target South Koreans, although South Korea does not allow its citizens to gamble online and have attempted to block these North Korean online sites. Once again, the North Koreans aren’t opposed to gambling on principle, they just don’t want their own people doing it, and in fact the same is true of the South Koreans actually, for the most part anyway, as there is only one casino in South Korea that non tourists are allowed to play at, in a remote location away from the cities, and otherwise they are not allowed in them.
So the South Koreans, like many countries, prefer their people not partake in online gambling and online poker, but there’s not a lot that can be done to stop people from playing online poker if they want to, as if people have internet access, countries can try to block online poker sites, but people can easily find ways around that.
However, North Korea has a much better way, and that’s to not let people have access to the internet in the first place. There is only one internet provider in North Korea, and you need special authorization to use it, and it is limited to high ranking government officials only. The rest of the people simply do not have access to the internet, so this is the one way that you can keep people from gambling online, in addition to isolating them from everything else on the internet. (4)
Even this isn’t enough though, and they don’t take any chances here in North Korea, so you aren’t even allowed to have a computer without it being registered with the police, and owning a fax machine here is illegal period. (5)
They do have an intranet though, which some people have access to, which is completely North Korean with only access to approved sites, and while most North Koreans have no idea what the internet is, the more sophisticated set think that this intranet is the internet. You won’t find any online poker on it though of course.
Even tourists aren’t allowed access to the real internet here, they have completely locked this down.
So this is a country that is extremely isolated, and the last place that poker will ever make inroads right now. They don’t play live poker here, they don’t play online poker, and a lot of people have never heard of the game actually. It’s going to take some major political upheaval for this to ever change, and the North Koreans have hunkered down and plan on staying. Who knows what the future may hold though but poker isn’t happening in North Korea any time soon that’s for sure.