Korean casino's struggle in second COVID spike

Jon Pill
Posted on: September 10, 2020 07:22 PDT

Korean casinos have had a strange couple of weeks. Casinos were one of the last businesses allowed to reopen. Most of the industry was looking at reopening over the summer. But the recent spate of cases has resulted in a series of openings, closings, and general confusion.

Kangkwon Land Casino closed on the 23rd of February. It re-opened to VIPs in May and to the public in July. But in late-August it dropped the shutters again, intending to reopen in a few weeks. Now they have pushed re-re-opening back until September 21.

Meanwhile, Paradise City’s Incheon site reported a case of COVID in its staff and went into lockdown. That number rose to six by Monday. At that point, Paradise City announced they were closing the Incheon site "indefinitely."

Indefinitely may have been a poor translation from the Korean as they re-opened yesterday.

Poker blues

Korean poker players have a pretty rough time of it. That is true even when everything is consistently open. Gambling is illegal for locals except in a single licensed casino — Kangwon Land Casino. If you don’t live in driving distance of Jeongseon county, where they are located, then you’re a bit stuffed.

There are seven other licensed casinos including the four Paradise City casinos that offer poker. But only foreigners are allowed to play at them.

Online gambling is so illegal in Korea, that one government crackdown put Farmville onto the blacklist. The government can even prosecute Korean citizens for gambling while at overseas brick-and-mortars.

Despite this, poker players in Korea use VPNs to play online. They hop on planes down to Macau for high stakes shenanigans. Though not much of that has been going on lately with Macau shut down and the air travel industry hamstrung by the epidemic.

So, sometimes players will even drive, fly, or swim out to Jeongseon to play in the one IRL licensed casinos in their own country.

Seoul success

Despite the current chaos, Korea has been one of the few success stories in these unprecedented times. Korea was one of the first places to be hit after China. But they managed to get it under control in less than a month. At no point have their daily deaths gone above 10. And they managed to do that without tanking their economy.

Even now, as they experience a second spike, their new cases per day are hovering in the low hundreds. For reference, the U.S.— with its vastly inferior testing regime — recorded 35 thousand new cases yesterday alone. The U.S. population is only about six times higher than South Korea’s.

The Korean casino industry has been somewhat exempt from the economic successes. In all, the closures this year have cost an estimated KRW36.4 billion ($30.7 million) to Kangkwon Land alone.

Despite all this, Korea’s second spike is on the downslope now. And hopefully, Korean poker players can look forward to a return to business as usual in the upcoming weeks.