Giving gambling a grand slam

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Giving gambling a grand slam

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In the movie “Friends,” protagonist Jun-seok (Yu Oh-seong) orders an attack to kill Dong-su (Jang Dong-gun), his best friend and a member of the rival gang. The following attack sequence was surprisingly similar to the ones in Japanese gangster movies: A group of gang members approaches the unsuspecting target, mercilessly assaults him, then kills him.

But Japanese crime syndicates, commonly called Yakuza, are struggling lately, thanks to strict government policies. Local government introduced a bylaw to drive out the Yakuza groups from their communities. It is getting increasingly difficult to sign an office lease, and apartment tenants have to prove that they are not gang members in order to rent. If a lower-level gang member is caught extorting businesses and testifies that he was going to offer money to the boss, the boss will be punished as an accomplice as well. Feeling pressured, a few Yakuza groups have attempted to reinvent their images by openly participating in relief activities in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

When “business” in Japan is rocky, many speculate that Yakuza funds flow into Korea via money lending and gambling. Major sources of income for Yakuza groups include drug dealing, illegal gambling and corporation blackmailing.

Much of their revenue comes from illegal gambling on baseball, the most popular sport in Japan. People bet money on the outcome of a game, and those who win are paid their share of the money from the pot, minus the fee. The teams are given appropriate handicaps. For example, the Yomiuri Giants are given a one-point handicap, and a win by more than two points equals a victory. If Yomiuri wins the game by one point, it would mean a draw, and a draw means defeat. That’s where the professional game predictor comes in. A mistress of a member of Yamaguchi Gumi, the largest Yakuza organization, was known to have unparalleled predicting power just by reading sports papers in the morning.

With the relatively new ubiquity of smartphones, the gambling business has struggled. In the U.S., game fixing in pro baseball leagues was eradicated in the early 20th century. In Taiwan, four match-fixing scandals resulted in a decrease in the number of sports teams and spectators. Last year, 11 billion won ($9.8 million) in cash earned from illegal online gambling was found in a garlic field. I am both concerned and suspicious that baseballs might be buried somewhere in a field as well.

by Noh Jae-hyun

* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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