South Korea Struggles to Curb Gambling Addiction as Black Market Grows

South Korea Struggles to Curb Gambling Addiction as Black Market Grows December 6, 2023 December 6, 2023 Carolyn Dutton
 Industry December 6, 2023 by Carolyn Dutton

South KoreaSummary:

  • The NGCC said over two million adults in South Korea are addicted to gambling
  • The continued increase in gambling addiction is attributed to the proliferation of illegal gambling
  • Many of the gambling addiction cases recorded in the country are associated with online gambling

Gambling addiction is getting worse in South Korea, with the numbers starting to go out of control.

The National Gambling Control Commission (NGCC) puts the gambling addiction rate in the country at 5.5%, with more than two million adults now addicted to gambling.

The flourishing illegal gambling market is mainly to blame for this spike, according to authorities and industry experts.

Gambling Addiction Continues to Rise in South Korea

South Korea is home to multiple regulated casinos but local residents are only allowed to gamble at the state-run Kangwon Land Casino located on the outskirts of Seoul. The rest of the land-based gaming venues in the country only cater to foreign customers.

Despite the strict regulations, gambling addiction has been on the rise in the country, with the latest figures from the NGCC revealing that around 2.37 million adults in South Korea are addicted to gambling. The number of people seeking medical treatment for gambling addiction has increased to 2,312 in 2022, more than double the 1,119 recorded in 2017.

That figure is anticipated to grow even further in 2023 as over 2,400 patients have already received treatment so far this year, already exceeding the number for full-year 2022.

The surge in gambling addiction is primarily driven by the proliferation of illegal gambling in South Korea, authorities said. The black market has grown significantly in recent years, generating 102 trillion WON in 2022, up from 70 trillion WON in 2016.

Black Market Growth Blamed for Rise in Gambling Addiction

Gambling has become increasingly available in South Korea, with gambling dens operating in many of the country’s famous nightlife districts. They manage to hide their illegal operations by posing as ordinary poker pubs, otherwise known as “hold’em pubs”, which are popular among locals, including youngsters.

These establishments offer Koreans easier access to gambling, eliminating the need for them to go to Kangwon. As a result, Kangwon Land’s revenue has been on the decline, according to Lee Ki-hun, financial analyst from Hana Financial Investment.

Online gambling poses a much bigger threat, as it accounted for 99% of illegal gambling busts in 2022. Furthermore, the majority of addiction treatment cases last year (71%) were linked to online gambling, according to figures from the NGCC and the Korea Problem Gambling Agency.

Many of the real money online casinos and gambling dens operating in the country are run by organized crime syndicates who make billions in profit from their illegal activities, authorities said. Some of them have already been caught but the “lax punishments” are not helping to solve the problem according to the NGCC’s Kim Sun-wook.

Carolyn is our legislation expert, with a background in law she is able to cover the current state of gambling around the world