The Korea Herald

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피터빈트

Underage gamblers getting younger, increasing in number: police

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 4, 2024 - 16:01

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South Korea has seen a continued decrease in the average age of teenagers caught gambling in the past five years, reaching 16.1 years old in 2023, according to the National Police Agency.

The country also saw a substantial on-year increase in the number of those aged between 14-18 years who were subject to criminal investigation for gambling, which more than doubled from 74 in 2022 to 171 in 2023. The figure does not include those who were caught but received a summary trial or a warning from police.

The average age of minors caught gambling decreased every year in the past five years, from 17.3 in 2019, 17.1 in 2020, 16.6 in 2021, and 16.5 in 2022. While no one under the age of 14 was caught gambling in 2019 and 2020, three, two and 15 "criminal minors" were caught gambling in 2021, 2022, and 2023, respectively.

"Criminal minors" refers to those who are immune to criminal punishment, with the current law defining them as those under the age of 14.

Approximately 84.8 percent of the underage gamblers -- 158 out of the 171 were boys -- engaged in online gambling such as baccarat or sports betting. About 56.7 percent of the suspects were caught at local internet cafes.

The rising number of underage gambling cases sparked concerns from police that young gamblers may resort to school violence or other unlawful activities to fund their gambling habits. Officials noted that gambling is easily accessible to teens via smartphones, which also makes online transactions easier.

The NPA plans to establish and implement countermeasures for underage gambling this year, including a promotional campaign on the hazards of gambling that will run throughout May. The police also will conduct a test operation of a guidance program for underage gambling addicts, customized for teens.

While first-time offenders or minor offenders can be dismissed with a warning or summary trial, more serious cases will be dealt with by having professionals analyze the likelihood of repeat offenses. The police countermeasures include weekly consultation for underage gamblers, which will continue for three months.

Police are also set to conduct a special crackdown on online gambling among teenagers, from May to the end of October.