The problem is the law not the gambling – the state is addiction to control


Shin Jung Hwan arrives at the courthouse on June 3 (Photo from www.newsen.com)
Shin Jung Hwan arrives at the courthouse on June 3

Asia is famous in the casino world for being the home of some of the most serious gamblers in the world; at some point or other I have heard wild tales of Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Philipino gamblers.  Sometimes they were tales of wealthy gamblers who traveled the world – in those days mostly to Vegas – in private jets, bringing with them their cooks, servants, girl friends and business partners.  They came to play and wagered sums so large that if the gambler won, it would change the win for the entire state of Nevada. Other times, the stories would be of poor working class gamblers, working in the fields and orchards of California or building America’s transcontinental railroads.  These men would work for months and months, even years saving every dollar they earned and then lose everything in one trip to the nearest gambling halls.  I might think the stories exaggerations, if not out-right fiction, were it not for the phenomenal success of the casinos in Macau and Singapore.  In May a handful of  casinos in Macau did $3,3 billion in gaming revenue, half of what Nevada casinos will do in an entire year.  There are other casinos in Asia, but none on the scale of those in Macau and Singapore.  The answer to Macau’s success is pretty simple, China’s 1.3 billion people are just a hop skip and jump away. They don’t have to be addicted to gambling or have billions of dollars in the bank, there are so many of them all they have to do is keeping coming to Macau – a thing they seem willing to do in increasing numbers every month.

Still, Vietnam is ramping up its gaming, hoping to be the next big Asian market after Singapore; last week Pinnacle announced a deal where it would invest in a casino there and be the manager.  The project is part of a billion dollar gambling destination resort conceived to help increase tourism to Vietnam.  South Korea, too, has its casino, but it restricts gambling to foreigners – a non uncommon tactic for governments who want the revenue, but not the problems associated with its citizens losing too much money.  This weekend two stories broke from Korea that reinforce the tales of the power of gambling in Asia cultures.  First the major Korean soccer league is in the midst of scandal that has sent a couple of player to jail for match-fixing; the national soccer association is forming an alliance with it counter parts in China and Japan to fight corruption from gambling. That is actually a world-wide problem at the moment and there are many such alliances forming.  The second story from Korea is about a singer being convicted of illegal gambling.  His loses were significant and he has been fined two times already, he either thought he would not be caught or could not control his impulses.

However, the singer’s apparent problems with gambling are not the real problem for me.  It is the law under which he was prosecuted.  It is illegal for South Koreans to gamble in casinos in Korea (there is one where South Koreans are permitted to play), but it is also illegal from them to gamble in any casino – anywhere.  He was tried and convicted for gambling in the Philippines – where his wagers were legal – not in Korea.  That gives a new and frightening definition to the “long arm of the law.”  It would appear like its counter part to the north, South Korea is addicted, not to gambling revenues, but to control; both Stalin and Chairman Mao would have approved.

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