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Teens banned from entering, working at 'hold 'em' pubs, cafes

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 17, 2024 - 16:23

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The South Korean government announced that a recent revision of the Youth Protection Act related to poker-themed businesses, which stipulates that teenagers shall be banned from entering or working at such establishments, will take effect Friday,

"Hold 'em pubs" and "hold 'em cafes" refer to establishments that allow users to engage in games categorized by the law as casino-type games, including the poker variant Texas hold 'em, which gave such enterprises their names. These joints are currently categorized as eateries, meaning there was no law banning them from accepting teens as customers or employees.

Teens can enter or work at establishments categorized as restaurants, provided they do not consume or purchase any alcoholic beverages.

But the hold 'em joints have caused controversy in South Korea over the recent years due to many such establishments providing de facto gambling services that offer financial rewards to winners of the games. The South Korean government last week vowed to crack down on what it called the "pseudo-casino operations" of these hold 'em pubs, following the recent revision of the related law.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family on Friday said it will work with regional governments, police and civic groups to inspect such businesses across the country to ensure that the new regulations are being enforced.

The teen ban on hold 'em establishments is to be enforced whether or not they actually give out rewards -- in cash or prize form -- as a result of games. Any pubs or cafes that make poker-style games available to guests are subject to the ban.

In another effort to curb gambling issues among youngsters, the ministry will expand the subjects of its annual inspection of cyber gambling addiction among teens. The survey had previously been conducted on first-year students of middle and high schools, but this year's study will also include elementary school fourth graders.

Teens categorized as high-risk as a result of the survey will be able to receive counseling at local youth centers or the state-run Korea Problem Gambling Agency. They will also be able to participate in addiction treatment programs set to be established at the National Center for Youth Internet Addiction Treatment in May and November.