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Gambling addicts trapped in debt

Neighbors used to praise him for being a good father and husband, but Kim is now a murderer, having killed his wife and son after years of struggling with gambling debts.

The 42-year-old office worker, known only by his surname, was arrested Thursday on charges of murdering his wife, 39, and 14-year-old son.

He started gambling 10 years ago out of curiosity. He sometimes won money but his gambling led to mounting debts.

In order to pay off the debts, he began betting on horse racing and online poker early this year.

He borrowed money from colleagues and relatives and mortgaged the family apartment to get a bank loan. He also got a private loan, officials said.

However, the debts snowballed to 400 million won ($345,000). That was when he started to think about suicide.

After the family’s “last vacation” in mid-August, his colleagues visited his house early this month and his wife came to know about the huge amount of debt.

During a quarrel, Kim suffocated her.

Two days later, Kim also killed his son while he slept.

“I was to about commit suicide but worried my son who would be left alone in this brutal world,” Kim was quoted as saying during the police investigation.

He dumped the bodies of his wife and son into a river in his hometown Yeongwol, Gangwon Province. He was arrested as he went to visit his father’s tomb.

“It is a bitter case in which an ordinary father killed his loved ones due to gambling debts. It is a tragedy that reflects the danger of gambling,” a police officer said.

The nation’s burgeoning gambling industry has seen a huge growth in recent years while causing 2 million gambling addicts here as well.

According to the National Gaming Control Commission, 6.1 percent of Koreans were gambling addicts last year, more than double the rate of other countries.

The rate of gambling addiction was 1.9 in the U.K., 1.7 in Canada and 2.55 in Australia.

The rate among those who visit gambling outlets was 61.4 percent, up from 55 percent in 2008, the group added.

“Most of the gambling addicts are self-employed men in their 30s or 40s. With the economic slowdown ongoing, the trend is likely to deepen,” said Cho Hyun-sub, director of the state-run Prevention Center for Gambling Addiction.

The government established the gaming control agency in 2007 and is running three treatment centers across the nation.

The centers provide temporary shelters to 5,600 addicts for education and consultations and help their self-reliance by offering job opportunities.

However, there is a huge lack of resources to support an estimated 2 million addicts here.

Cho, the center’s director, said owners of gambling businesses should feel more responsibility to help addicts get proper help. Currently, the government and the gambling industry pay half and half for the establishment of support centers.

In other countries, gambling business owners use 1 to 2 percent of their operating profits on support programs for gambling addicts.

In Korea, where the industry saw nearly 6.8 trillion won ($5.9 billion) in operating profits in 2009, its spending on such programs was less than 2.3 billion won, or 0.3 percent of their profits.

The national gambling control agency designated Sept. 17 as Gambling Addiction Prevention Day last year and marks its second anniversary this week, along with staging campaign programs.

“Despite its serious effects, our society still considers gambling addiction as an individual problem. We will share the issue with the public this week and demand social and national responsibility and support,” Cho said.

By Lee Ji-yoon (
Korea Herald Youtube