Residents’ consent needed
Due to the lucrative business gained through off-track stations, revenue from betting on horse races reached 7.84 trillion won ($7.6 billion), taking up 40 percent of the gambling industry’s total revenue, which was 19.54 trillion won in 2012. Revenue from off-track facilities took up the lion’s share at 77 percent, or 5.66 trillion won.
Off-track betting has helped generate more cash for the industry, but residents who live near gambling outlets are not happy. No matter what positive purpose the revenue is being used for, the fact that it comes from gambling does not change.
Gambling is often accompanied by serious side effects. It is highly addictive and psychologically compulsive. All games can be compulsive, but gambling can be more harmful because it can lead to impulse-control disorder. People who gamble risk losing their money and family, and can easily become criminals. Gambling problems can lead to scams, theft, murder and social costs.
According to the National Gambling Control Commission, a study on South Korean gambling behavior showed an addiction rate of 7.2 percent in 2012, based on the Canadian Problem Gambling Index assessment. Comparatively, Britain showed 2.5 percent in a 2010 test, France 1.3 percent (2010), Australia 2.4 percent (2010), and New Zealand 1.7 percent (2009) on the same scale. Simply put, gambling addictions in South Korea were three to four times more serious than in other countries.
The teletheaters are merely used for betting purposes and have no recreational services. Punters that frequent off-track facilities show a higher rate of gambling addiction symptoms than those who prefer the real race track. The rate of addiction among punters in the race track was 47.8 percent in a 2012 survey while it was 69.3 percent among regular customers at off-track facilities.
Most gambling sites are located far from populated or residential areas in advanced nations because of their potential dangers and negative effects. The U.S. government licenses casinos in a distant desert area - Las Vegas, for example - to isolate the city from people’s everyday lives and regulate it as a special jurisdiction. The only casino licensed for locals in Korea - Kangwon Land - is tucked away in a mountainous area for similar reasons. Racing betting centers are the only gambling spaces that threaten to disturb residents’ everyday lives by encroaching into the center of crowded cities.
The off-track betting centers in Seoul’s Yongsan and Weolpyeong-dong in Daejon are all nearby schools and therefore violate not only the isolation and concentration principles for casinos and gambling facilities, but also undermine youth protection. Teenagers must be strictly protected from gambling temptations and the industry, but they can come into contact with gamblers if off-track betting facilities are allowed near school zones.
Off-course betting parlors are gamblers’ playgrounds situated in residential neighborhoods. If the government has to license them, it should at least keep them away from families and children. The government must move off-track outlets away from populated areas or shut them down.
If the government cannot do away with all the off-track centers in urban areas, it must seek permission from residents and only keep them in places that are condoned by residents. The existing facilities also must be removed if residents change their minds.
Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.
*The author is a lawyer and secretary-general of the Gambling Regulation Network.
By Lee Heon-wook