“Elmo” Case a Gift to Racing’s Enemies

It’s been two weeks since it was revealed that a Seoul based jockey was under investigation for allegedly passing insider information to illegal betting operations. The case involving the jockey – who, although his identity was initially made public, can now only be identified by his initial “L” or “L-Mo” in Korean, could not have come at a worse time as the KRA battles to portray racing in a positive light in the face of an increasingly puritanical regulator.

Support – or at least indifference – from the majority of lawmakers is essential in resisting the recommendations of the National Gaming Control Commission, an organization that makes little secret of its aim to eliminate any form of gambling and has already succeeded in having the KRA close down its “KNetz” Internet betting service which ceased operations in July.

While the NGCC may not be able to grasp the concept, most lawmakers currently accept that the more restrictions there are placed upon legalized gambling, the more the many illegal ones thrive. To keep this support, however, the KRA has to be able to demonstrate that racing is clean. Bent jockeys will always pop up from time to time, but, however this case proceeds, its timing is terrible and has prompted speculation over the likely success of the next recommendations from the NGCC as outlined over the weekend by Korea Racing Journal editor Kim Mun Young.

The Electronic ID Card scheme raised its head again. Under this scheme, when trying to place a bet, a punter would be asked to produce an ID card that they have previously had to apply for and been issued. The card will have a chip that records all his gambling activity. While punters mutter darkly about essentially being put in the same category as sex-offenders by having to be on a register, it would also eliminate racing as an activity for all but those “on the register”.

On a summer’s day, the Seoul Race Park infield and track apron is packed with picnicking families and dating couples. If, in future they’re going to need to be on the government’s list of registered gamblers if they fancy a stroll to the windows to put 500 won each-way on the favourite, it’s likely they’ll spend their weekends elsewhere.

Of course, there was a very easy way of tracking punters’ expenditure. It was called KNetz and it was closed down this July. The ID card scheme, however, is a real possibility – not least because of the lucrative contracts that would need to be dished out for running it

Less likely is a reduction in the maximum bet amount although this is another NGCC proposal. Instead of the current 100,000 won per bet limit, a daily limit of the same amount be imposed. This would of course essentially close racing down and most observers agree that outside of the NGCC, there is little appetite for that due to the huge revenues it generates in both taxes and in support of agriculture.

Meanwhile, one grocery store chain is currently giving away national lottery tickets with all purchases over 10,000 won and the “Sports Toto” – where players predict the results of European football matches – can be gambled on from almost every convenience store on the peninsula. Racing feels picked upon but “Elmo” hasn’t helped its cause.

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