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Decades-old S. Korea gambling ban ends

The Straits Times, 30 October 2000

SEOUL—A decades-old ban on gambling in South Korea has ended with the opening of the first casino for Koreans in a remote town desolated by the collapse of its mining industry.

Long queues formed outside the Small Casino Hotel, in Chongson, Kangwon province, with its 480 slot machines and 30 gaming tables which opened for business on Saturday, said one of its managers, Mr Oh Yong Ho.

Yesterday, we were full to capacity, all the 199 hotel rooms are reserved and already people are queueing outside today, the delighted executive said yesterday morning just after the casino reopened at 8 am following a two-hour break.

Ordinary guests can bet up to 500,000 won (S$800) per day, but VIP guests will have no betting restrictions.

An official for Kangwon Land Corp, which built the casino, said 93 per cent of earnings would be given out in winnings, 3 per cent higher than Las Vegas.

The authoritarian government of President Park Chung Hee banned gambling in 1969.

But it also allowed a few casinos for foreigners to be started in Seoul and the island resort of Cheju.0

Since 1969, betting has been restricted to horse racing, but illegal underground gaming houses have thrived. South Koreans have also flocked to casinos abroad.

To show how the authorities now see the possible benefits of gambling, the opening ceremony was attended by provincial Governor Kim Jin Son and Vice-Commerce and Industry Minister Oh Yeon Gyo.

The government owns 51 per cent of the shares in the Kangwon Land.

The Small Hotel Casino is expected to earn 100 billion won in annual sales, with an estimated 2,000 visitors daily. —AFP