In South Korea, a stern battle is being waged against the rising tide of gambling. The country’s strict regulations cast a wide net, capturing all forms of gambling activities within their grasp. Imagine a lone casino, Kangwon Land Casino, nestled on the outskirts of Seoul. This is the only place where South Koreans can legally gamble, a privilege protected under the Special Act on the Assistance to Development of Abandoned Mines.

Yet, the allure of online gambling beckons, with overseas sportsbooks offering a forbidden fruit. But the authorities are vigilant, their watchful eyes ever on the lookout for violations. Recent cases involving online sports gambling rings have led to arrests, a stark reminder of the consequences.

The reach of Korean law is extensive, covering all forms of gambling by South Koreans, both domestically and overseas. However, there’s a twist. Tourists and expats can legally gamble at all casinos in the country, and Korean Law does not apply to non-Koreans while they are abroad, except in the most exceptional of crimes.

The definition of “gambling” might seem elusive, but the Korean Supreme Court has provided clarity. It defines “gambling” as an act of achieving monetary gain or loss through the wager of property on a game or activity based on chance.At the helm of this regulatory landscape is the National Gambling Control Commission (NGCC), the watchdog that oversees the gambling industry in South Korea. Despite these stringent measures aimed at controlling the prevalence of gambling and mitigating its potential negative impacts such as addiction and associated crimes, a concern lingers.

Illegal gambling activities, particularly among the youth, persist, casting a shadow over these efforts. As reported by SiGMA News recently, South Korea is witnessing a concerning pattern as the age of underage gamblers is decreasing, while their numbers are on the rise.

The South Korea National Police Agency (KNPA) has recently reported a significant increase in the number of Korean juveniles involved in illicit gambling activities. This alarming trend has prompted law enforcement to devise comprehensive preventive measures.

In the past five years, the average age of teenagers caught gambling has consistently decreased, reaching a low of 16.1 years old in 2023. In the same year, a total of 171 teenagers, aged between 14 and 19, were apprehended under suspicion of participating in illegal gambling. This marked a 2.3-fold increase from the previous year’s figure of 74. Boys constituted a staggering 92.4 percent of these individuals.

The KNPA also revealed that a significant 84.8 percent of the suspects were engaged in online gambling activities, such as baccarat and sports betting. Each game typically lasted only about 10 seconds. Furthermore, 56.7 percent of these individuals accessed gambling platforms at internet cafes, predominantly utilizing computers and smartphones.

Law enforcement authorities anticipate a continued rise in juvenile gambling through smartphones, owing to their easy accessibility and the perception among youth that mobile gambling is merely a casual pastime. However, the police have cautioned that underage participation in illegal gambling could lead to various associated crimes, including instances of school violence and fraudulent activities aimed at securing funds for gambling purposes.

National Police Agency Commissioner Yoon Hee-keun has emphasized the serious threat posed by illegal smartphone gambling to the youth. He pledged to combat youth gambling addiction through intensified guidance and efforts to prevent relapses. In response to this trend, law enforcement agencies plan to launch awareness programs targeting middle and high school students and their parents. These programs aim to educate them about the hazards of gambling. Additionally, collaborative rehabilitation programs with local counselling centres for teenagers will be established. These programs will provide counselling, medical assistance, and legal support to offenders, offering a holistic approach to tackling this growing issue.

South Korea’s battle against illegal gambling, particularly among the youth, is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. The strict regulations and enforcement efforts must be coupled with education, awareness, and rehabilitation programs to effectively combat this growing concern.

As the country navigates this challenging landscape, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including the government, law enforcement agencies, schools, and families, to work together towards creating a safer environment for the youth and fostering a culture of responsible gaming.

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