Reforms as Regulator Still Hovers

KNetz to go but Trifecta comes to Korea / 2009 the year of the Filly & Mare
Last September, this site wrote about the National Gaming Control Commission (NGCC) and its attempts to essentially outlaw gambling in Korea. At the time, racing was seemingly very much under threat with the KRA collecting signatures in support of its fight against the commission and the Gangwon Land casino – the only casino open to Korean citizens – admitting it feared the worst as its share price plummeted. The apocalyptic scenario that some were discussing back then seems to have been averted for the time being, but it is with regulation very much in mind that a number of changes have been made to the 2009 racing season.

The NGCC is sticking by its main goal. That is, it wants to see the total amount wagered on all forms of gambling limited. The figure it has set is KRW 14 Trillion per year (around US$13 Billion). This applies to racing, casinos, the lottery, track cycling and motor boat racing. As the economic situation has worsened, however, the commission seems to have accepted that these legal forms of gambling are not necessarily the problem. Instead it is illegal gambling which, while always common in a country where the maximum legal amount you can bet on a horse is $80, according to anecdotal evidence is rapidly on the increase and the NGCC’s focus would be appear to be shifting towards this area rather than to legal betting on racing.

So far, the NGCC’s only tangible impact upon racing has been to order the KRA to shut down its internet and mobile “KNetz” betting service. Additionally, in response to the regulatory threat, the KRA has chosen to run four fewer days of racing in 2009, a total of 33 less races than last year. While the KRA’s own aim to get the KRW 100,000 single bet limit increased may be very much on hold, these seem small prices to pay compared with what was envisaged back in the autumn.

At the same time, the KRA is aiming to get as much of that KRW 14 Trillion spent at the track instead of on the lottery as possible. From April, a sixth type of bet is going to be available as the Trifecta finally arrives in Korea. It is expected that there will be a marketing campaign aimed at current lottery players advising them of the far better odds – not to mention fun – that the trifecta will offer, will be launched.

On the racing side of things 2009 sees some changes too. Primarily there is going to be a much greater focus on fillies and mares. In 2008, just 2% of races were designated for female horses. This is to rise to 10% this year – essentially one race per card. Perhaps even more significantly, the amount that owners are permitted to spend on imported horses has doubled to $40,000 – but only for female horses. This threshold, in place to protect the local breeding industry, has been a major impediment to getting quality horses onto the Korean track and encouraging trainers to raise their game and produce better horses. The final racing change for 2009 is that the minimum number of starters for Stakes races has been reduced from seven to five.

Overall, there is still a threat. It is entirely possible that for political reasons, the deeply unpopular government may decide to suddenly introduce legislation to ban all gambling. For now, however, it seems as though the KRA will reluctantly take its medicine, in the form of the KNetz ban, and get on with things. Indeed, track turnover is predicted to rise by 13% this year. Even though the Korea Times chose to portray this as a sign of a “Depression trauma” society, it seems we can look forward to the 2009 season with optimism that we can concentrate on what’s happening on the track, rather than off it.

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