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‘Urban casino for locals will destroy Korea’

MACAU -- Amid heated debates on a second casino in Korea permitting the entry of locals, an international expert warned it would “destroy the country.” 

Citing the nature of Koreans and their emotional response toward gambling, David Jung, founder and CEO of Hero Poker, a Philippines-focused online poker program, said allowing a casino to open within urban areas in Korea is a dangerous idea, stressing that the people would never draw a clear line between their life and entertainment when it comes to gambling.

“If they ever announce that they will open another casino like Kangwon Land in Seoul for Koreans, I will write one-page letter to newspapers,” said Jung in an interview to The Korea Herald on Thursday. “It would destroy Korea.”

Jung, a Korean-Canadian expert on global gaming industry, was one of notable speakers at G2E Asia, a premier gaming exhibition and conference that wrapped up its three-day run Thursday at Venetian Hotel in Macau. 

Dot founder and David Jung, CEO of Hero Poker (Cho Chung-un/The Korea Herald)
Dot founder and David Jung, CEO of Hero Poker (Cho Chung-un/The Korea Herald)

Jung built his career in the industry by establishing a series of world-class poker tournaments in Asia. He was the former PokerStars regional marketing director of Asia. He was also a senior management consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Korea, working as a negotiator for international ventures including casino business.

“The problem is Koreans like to gamble, and how they gamble is different. Being very emotional ... they are either happy or sad, excited or angry. … Every time they have those emotions, they bet more,” he said.

“No matter what the rational argument is about the economic benefits for Korea, it would never outweigh the social damage, 100 percent, never.”

The comment by the 41-year-old expert comes as the government is seeking ways to expand tourism revenue by opening two integrated casino resorts on Yeongjongdo Island near Incheon International Airport, and a cruise business that will include an “open” casino inside the ship. Open casinos are gaming venues open not only to foreigners but also Korean nationals.

Under the law, Koreans are prohibited from entering all domestic casinos except Kangwon Land, a state-operated casino business in Gangwon Province, some 300 kilometers northeast of Seoul.

Koreans’ obsession with casinos is very high compared to many others around the world, Jung said, pointing out how profitable the business is at Kangwon Land, and perhaps the reason why foreign operators are paying keen interest.

“Kangwon Land is the most profitable casino per square foot in the entire world. That one casino is (generating) the same revenue as 12-13 other foreign casinos, amazing,” he said.

“I know a lot of foreign companies who would like to make a bid for casinos. ... Why did they make bids for a casino in Incheon? Because one day they hope the government will allow entry to Koreans for gambling.”

Not just the casino business, Jung was also cautious about the growing online gaming businesses, urging the companies to have some “ethical consideration” on its social impact, particularly on children.

Some data supports his claim. According to a 2014 government report, 5.4 percent of Korean males aged over 20, or about 2.07 million, were game addicts. The prevalence rate of game addiction was three times higher than that of advanced countries.

“Korea is the only country in the world that has an Internet addiction center,” Jung said. 

Anything that goes beyond mere entertainment can become very damaging, he noted.

By Cho Chung-un, Korea Herald correspondent (