One Month After The Ban: Where are the Punters?

It’s now been over a month since the KRA’s online “KNetz” betting platform was closed down at the insistence of the National Gaming Contol Commission (NGCC). KNetz had 40,000 customers and accounted for approximately 4% of total handle on any given weekend. So where have these punters gone? Have they seen the error of their ways and decided to spend their weekends doing more socially productive activities? Probably not.

Average handle in August was down on July – but it is every year due to the holiday season. It was up on last year. Track attendance was also up on last year, but only slightly and again this is part of a wider trend. In Korea at least, the number of people going racing is growing.

What’s also growing is the number of illegal bookmakers. Last weekend the Korea Racing Journal cited anecdotal evidence of a rising number of private gaming houses offering betting on the races. They’ve always been there. With betting tax a wallet-busting 27% on the most popular bets and an upper stake limit of 100,000 won, the attraction of betting on something other than the pari-mutuel isn’t a new one and with the online ban, it was always going to get stronger.

Even the NGCC recognized this and they tried to stifle it. Televised racing was banned at the same time as Knetz and the KRA has been restricted in the amount of information it could provide prior to races. Naturally, as the Journal notes again citing anecdotal evidence, the criminal fraternity has proved far more effective in disseminating information than the authority ever was.

While it appears to be easy to bet on a horse illegally, for those punters who don’t fancy either it or indoor fishing, there are now mobile slot machines to help them get their illicit fix. These rather ridiculous contraptions are apparently touring the country offering punters the opportunity to put their unwanted money into a box – and that’s presumably that. A more miserable way of losing is hard to imagine.

Of course, with internet gambling on horse racing banned, anyone who wants a legal punt can’t do it anymore unless they live near the track or one of the few KRA Plaza off-track betting sites. Now that the NGCC has cleared the market for the criminals to move into, mobile slots will probably be the tacky tip of a very depressing iceberg.

On a semi-related subject, the English language version of the Korean daily newspaper JoongAng Ilbo recently ran a reasonably interesting article on the Korean casino indiustry. It looks at the history of the Paradise Casino group as well as the more recent Seven Luck chain.

The article highlights the contradictory policy of barring Korean citizens from entering casinos while encouraging foreign visitors to do so – to the extent that the operator of Seven Luck is an offshoot of the Korea National Tourist Organization. Sadly it doesn’t manage to answer the question as to whether it is the case that Korean lawmakers don’t trust their own people – or don’t respect foreigners. Or both.

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