Gambling on the economy

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Gambling on the economy


Kangwon Land at 4 a.m.

In the 1991 film “Bugsy” starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Bugsy Siegel builds Flamingo, a hotel and casino named after his girlfriend, in the desert. Although Siegel is killed by gangsters in the end, Las Vegas has grown to be an internationally renowned gambling and tourism center today.

The Nevada-based casino and resort development company Las Vegas Sands is frequently mentioned in development projects in Busan and Saemangeum. The company is willing to make a 6 trillion won ($5.4 billion) investment in the Busan North Harbor redevelopment district on the condition that it be allowed to establish a so-called open casino in which Korean citizens can enter. Busan Mayor Seo Byung-soo proposed the plan last month, and at a seminar to develop Busan as a Northeast Asian tourism city on Sept. 8, the introduction of an open casino started a heated debate.

Las Vegas Sands also wants to invest 10 trillion won on an open casino in Saemangeum in North Jeolla. Kim Kwan-young, a People’s Party lawmaker from the province, proposed a revision to the special law governing the Saemangeum development project to give permission for an open casino.

Kangwon Land, the only domestic casino open to Korean nationals, opposed the plan, revealing its own weaknesses. “Casinos bring considerable harmful effects, mass-producing gambling addicts, ruining fortune and leading to secondary crimes,” it said in a statement opposing the proposal.

While Kangwon Land was established to revive the economy of a town suffering from mine closures, other locations should not be permitted, it argued. The municipal and county assembly leaders of Gangwon recently met with Saenuri Party floor leader Chung Jin-suk and asked the ruling party to officially oppose open casinos.

Native American gaming operations are similar to Kangwon Land. In the United States, Native Americans have tribal sovereignty to operate casinos, and there are 460 gambling operations across the country. While they help economically, casinos on reservations are associated with problems such as gambling addiction and lack of motivation to work. According to The New York Times, the number of casinos is growing and profitability is declining, and Native Americans are seeking new ways to make money.

Lawmaker Kim says that problems could be minimized if the admission charge is 10 times that of Kangwon Land’s 9,000 won and if the number of allowed entries is restricted. But will it work? Accessibility to Saemangeum and Busan is incomparable to that of Jeongseon County, where Kangwon Land is located. And if open casinos are allowed in these areas to boost the local economy, other regions will also want a casino.

Kangwon Land made considerable contributions to the economy. But there is more than just the economic effect. A 2014 Korea Center on Gambling Problems report found that gambling addiction and suicides are correlated to a certain degree. The national suicide rate between 2007 and 2013 was 28.8 per 100,000 people, but the rate in Gangwon was 40.8, the highest in the country. We cannot rely on casinos to save local economies.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 12, Page 30

*The author is deputy national news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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