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South Korea is one of the most advanced and economically vibrant countries in Asia, although Asian countries do tend to be behind the times so to speak compared with developed nations in some other parts of the world, particularly in comparison to a lot of European countries, as far as gambling goes, and South Korea is as well, at this point anyway.
Commercial gambling is something that is fairly new to Asia and while they have embraced it quite a bit over the last few years, this is an area which has traditionally been quite conservative when it comes to permitting gambling, and the focus thus far has been on looking to capture tourist dollars, more so than establishing a strong domestic gambling market.
This may be due to a view of gambling in Asia that tends to view it in a harsher light than elsewhere, seeing it as more predatory, where countries mind less that foreign tourists are subject to this than their own people, who they still look to “protect” from it to a degree.
This certainly does appear to be the case in South Korea. In some countries in Asia, the poorer ones in particular, they don’t worry so much about this due to the casinos they set up being too upscale for a lot of their people to be able to gamble at, although in South Korea, it’s pretty affluent as far as Asian countries go, and there are many that would like to gamble at South Korean casinos, but they are for the most part forced outside the country to do so.
So South Korea does have a lot of casinos, 22 in fact, and 18 of them are large casino hotels, but with the exception of a single one in a remote location in South Korea, they cater to foreign tourists only, and South Koreans are not allowed to play there. (1)
The laws of South Korea in fact make gambling illegal other than in certain circumstances, which include being able to gamble at this one remote casino, the Kangwon Land Casino, as well as playing the state sanctioned lottery, which includes the ability to bet on sporting contests, and betting on racing, such as horse racing, cycling, and boat races.
Other forms of gambling are subject to fines, under article 247 of the South Korean Criminal Act up to 5 million won (about $4500). Operating an illegal gambling establishment risks a fine up to 20 million won ($18,000). (2)
So South Koreans for the most part do their land based gambling while on vacation in other countries, particularly in Macau and Singapore, which are both fairly close by, but even this is considered a crime, even though the crime takes place in another country essentially.
There is a movement in the Korean government to look to change this though, and a top government official has recently spoken out against what he calls these archaic laws, although there is also strong opposition within the government to maintain these laws, it might be a while before we see some real change happen here. (3)
This would certainly help the gambling industry here grow even more, and there are a lot of people in South Korea who would probably rather spend their gambling dollars in their own country rather than have to travel elsewhere to do it, and this would certainly expand the land based poker industry here.
Playing Poker in South Korea
In spite of it being illegal for South Koreans to gamble outside of the few permitted gambling options available to them, illegal gambling here is rampant. There are some underground casinos but most of the illegal gambling here occurs online. The government estimates that the illegal gambling market here is worth at least $66 billion dollars a year, a huge amount.
This is in spite of the crackdowns that the government is known to take against it, and as is the case in many other countries, if the people want to gamble, they will do it in spite of it not being legal to do so. (4)
As far as online gambling goes, it’s so popular here that there are actually illegal South Korean sites that run even though the government tries hard to get them shut down. They also look to block foreign sites, although a lot of South Koreans are hip to technology and access online gambling sites through virtual private networks and use internet wallets to defeat their government’s attempts to impede their access to these sites.
The government is so serious about shutting down online gambling that they have even gone as far as to shut down Facebook social games, in an effort to prevent people from playing poker, even though the games there are with play money, and even though non gambling games such as Farmville ended up being blocked as well. That‘s mighty serious stuff indeed. (5)
Poker is pretty popular here, especially online poker, and while there are underground games that do run, almost all of the poker here is played online these days. There is also live poker at the casinos but once again they exclude South Koreans. Walter Hill Poker in Seoul is a particularly good spot if you are just visiting.
Seoul now has a spot on the Asian Poker Tour now, which certainly doesn’t hurt promoting its popularity in this country.
Live poker is pretty much a niche thing these days and while live poker does have certain features about it that you can’t get playing online poker, almost all real money poker these days is played online anyway, so the more limited access that South Koreans have to live poker is probably not seen as a big deal, and it really isn’t given that anyone can log on to the internet and play as much online poker as they want, any time they want.
Korea certainly does not have regulated poker at this time, and it’s illegal for South Korean companies to operate online poker sites, although in this country that doesn’t stop them. As far as playing online poker goes, there are no specific laws against it, although it is still believed to be illegal anyway, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people from playing, and it is extremely difficult to catch people doing so, especially if you take precautions, as the players generally do here, and are to some degree actually forced into doing so.
So keeping in mind how eager the government is to prevent South Koreans from playing online poker, it is certainly advisable that players who wish to do so use a VPN to connect to it and use an internet wallet as well, and there are a great many South Koreans who do so and get to enjoy playing this great game online.