[EDITORIALS] What's Behind the New Casino?

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[EDITORIALS] What's Behind the New Casino?

Suspicions and rumors about the construction of a casino in the Oakwood Hotel in Seoul have prompted the Board of Audit and Inspection to investigate. On Wednesday afternoon, opposition members of the National Assembly's Culture and Tourism Committee inspected the site.

The suspicions were aroused when it was learned that Hanmoo Convention, the owner of the hotel, had almost finished building casino facilities on two floors of its six-story annex without permits. Hanmoo's explanation is that it was merely preparing in advance for the time when the permit would be issued, but the explanation is weak.

How and why the Tourism Promotion Act was modified to allow convention centers to add gambling facilities is also unclear. Hanmoo Convention began building the convention annex at the Asem Convention Center in June 1998. Up until that time, only first-class hotels within specially designated tourism districts were permitted to open casinos. However, in December of that year, the law was changed. Are we to believe that there is no connection between the amendment of the law and this company's expansion into the gambling business?

Another reason for being suspicious is the fact that in August 1999, "recreational facilities" was added to the building permit as a purpose of the structure; the permit had originally stated that the building was to be used for "business and sales facilities." This addition meant that a casino could be opened on the premises any time after business authorization was granted. The Oakwood Hotel itself had its status changed from office building to hotel in November 1999, and about that time Hanmoo got a loan of more than 70 billion won ($55 million) from the Korea Development Bank.

The casino business is commonly regarded here as a goose that lays golden eggs. The 13 foreigners-only casinos around the country raked in 340 billion won last year, and the Jeongseon Casino, which Korean nationals are also allowed to visit, made 41.2 billion in two months. The Board of Audit and Inspection must look into the Hanmoo case thoroughly and make its findings public. If any evidence of illegal doings is uncovered, the Public Prosecutor's Office should launch a criminal investigation immediately.
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