South Korea has long been celebrated for technological advances and personal freedoms unknown to their neighbors. South Korean can also be proud of having the most inconsistent and oppressive set of casino gambling laws in the world.
Since there are no laws which address online gambling, it is illegal to operate an online casino within South Korea. A large numbers of citizens still play at mafia operated South Korean internet casinos as well as foreign based online casinos.
Even though high-end casinos are found inside every South Korean metropolis, the South Korean citizens found inside are dealers, waiters and janitors. Only foreigners are permitted to gamble inside the country’s casinos. South Koreans are not even permitted to enter a casino inside their own country, since every visitor’s passport is checked prior to admission.
It is permitted for punters to bet on sports in South Korea and races. Only one casino, Kangwon Land, in the underdeveloped Gangwon-do province is open to citizens of South Korea.
Unfortunately, the province is so isolated that it would be easier to fly to Vegas and back than to scale Gangwon-do’s inhospitable mountainous terrain.
South Korean gambling laws have a provision which sets them apart from your garden variety laws aimed at restricting personal freedoms within a country.
When news of this law spread, advisors to dictators and military juntas throughout the world faced firing squads for failing to think up of such an oppressive decree first.
The provision of Article 246 of the Criminal Act forbids all South Korean citizens from gambling at any casino in every country, except for lovely Kangwon. Those who fail to obey are charged as a ‘Habitual Overseas Gambler’ and face a minimum term of 3 years in prison along with a of $20,000 US fine.
Even one game on a Vegas casino slot machine would automatically designate a South Korean citizen a habitual gambler. The reason for being branded ‘habitual’ is the simplistic logic so familiar to victims of Soviet Gulags – ‘If they did it once, they must have done it twice.’
When used in conjunction with the South Korean foreign exchange law, which limits the amount of money that can be taken out of the country, the gambler indeed is in serious trouble.
Mr. Shin Jung-hwan (35), a famous South Korean singer and comedian known for an ever present mischievous twinkle in his eyes, was seen gambling inside a legal Cebu, Philippines casino in mid-2010. He was recognized, despite trying to hide inside the casino VIP room, and decided to not return to South Korea rather than face prison time back in his beloved country.
Homesick, he eventually returned to South Korea in January of 2011, was arrested and on April 4, 2011, faced the judge for his first appearance.
Judge Kim Hwan-soo of the Seoul Central District Court grilled Mr. Shin for over 10 hours to determine if he was a danger to the general public and if he should be held at a pre-trial jail without bail.
After much thought, Judge Kim decided that the famous comedian could remain free until trial – “Given the evidence, Shin has committed crimes but he is not able to destroy relevant evidence. He may remain free under supervision until his trial date.”
According to the prosecution he now faces three years in prison and a fine of up to 20 million won ($18,000) – “The nature of his crime is very bad given his actions of gambling away a large amount of money overseas.” Mr. Shin has been labeled a pariah and can no longer find employment.
Mr. Shin, who once brought joy and laughter to millions of South Koreans, was pale as he limped out of court on crutches with tears of gratitude welling up in his lifeless eyes.