Gambling Laws In Korea A Complex Landscape4 min read

Gambling Laws In Korea A Complex Landscape<span class="wtr-time-wrap after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">4</span> min read</span>
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Gambling in Korea occupies a complex legal landscape. Both North and South Korea strictly regulate most forms of gambling, considering it largely unlawful for citizens. However, some betting activities remain permissible within certain bounds. This article explores the intricacies of gambling legislation across the Korean peninsula.


●   Gambling is mostly illegal for citizens in both North and South Korea, though some limited exceptions apply.

●   North Korea has a history of state-run lotteries dating to the 1950s to generate revenue.

●   South Korean law prohibits citizens from gambling both domestically and abroad. Violations carry fines up to ₩20 million.

●   Kangwon Land Casino in South Korea boasted over ₩1.22 trillion in revenue in 2022 with 2.08 million visitors.

●   South Koreans can legally bet up to ₩100,000 on horse races and participate in pari-mutuel sports betting.

●   High-profile figures like TV host Lee Soo-geun have faced legal repercussions for unlawful sports betting.

The Complex Legal Landscape

Both North and South Korea take a restrictive stance toward gambling. Limited state-approved lotteries, sports betting, and casinos catering to foreigners represent narrow exceptions. However, illegal gambling remains widespread despite stiff penalties.

North Korea

North Korea has organized national lotteries since the 1950s to generate state revenue. An intranet-based sports lottery also appeared in 2018. While technically illegal, lottery booths have operated openly in Pyongyang for years.

South Korea

Gambling flourished during Korea’s Three Kingdoms era but prohibition followed in the Joseon dynasty. Horse race betting returned under Japanese rule in the early 20th century. Today, South Korea permits some forms of gambling but imposes strict control. Revenues support tourism, but problems like underage and online gambling raise concerns.

Gambling Laws In Korea A Complex Landscape

Extraterritorial Reach of the Law

South Korea asserts legal jurisdiction over citizens’ gambling activities worldwide. Violators can face up to three years in jail and fines up to ₩20 million. Attempts to evade detection using VPNs represent another unlawful layer.

South Korea’s Casino Industry

While most casinos in South Korea only admit foreigners, Kangwon Land Casino uniquely serves citizens as well. Its remote locale aims to discourage addiction. Annual profits exceeding ₩1.22 trillion make it Korea’s most lucrative casino.

Kangwon Land Casino

As South Korea’s largest casino with over 27,000 square meters of gaming space, Kangwon Land earned well over ₩1 trillion in 2022 revenue. Its remote mountain location in Gangwon Province restricts access for workaday patrons. Games include slots, roulette, baccarat, blackjack and more.

Other South Korean Casinos

Destinations like Jeju Island host several posh foreigner-only casinos catering to Chinese and Southeast Asian tourists. Prestigious hotels like Seoul’s Grand Walkerhill and Busan’s Paradise Casino offer glamorous venues focused on VIP clientele. Even secluded spots like Mount Sorak tempt wealthy visitors with scenic locales.

Betting in North and South Korea

While lawful options remain scarce domestically, some betting forms persist in popularity across Korea:

Horse Racing

Horse race betting is legal in South Korea through the pari-mutuel system. Bets take place directly between players rather than against the house. Total wagers faced a ₩100,000 cap as of 2022, generating over ₩1 trillion in annual revenue. North Korea also hosted races as early as 2017 at venues like Mirim Horse Racing Club outside Pyongyang.


Both Koreas have experimented with national lotteries over the decades as revenue generators and even experimental e-lotteries. South Korea currently offers long-running games like House Lotto, Pension 520, and scratch tickets. North Korean attempts mostly failed after brief trial runs.

Gambling Laws In Korea A Complex Landscape

Other Wagers

South Koreans can also bet on bicycle racing and legal sports books under strict control. Football attracts the highest volume of sports wagers through the Toto and Sports Proto systems. All bets go through government regulators, never directly against oddsmakers. No equivalent sports books exist in the North.

The Perils of Online Gambling

While physically accessing legal gambling poses challenges in South Korea, online casinos represent an even greater temptation. Unregulated offshore sites actively court Korean gamblers through cryptocurrency payments, despite the routine use of SSL tracking and VPN-blocking by police. Still, access remains a cat and mouse game.

Gambling Age and Penalties

Gamblers must reach 19 years old to participate legally in any Korean betting or casino market. However, underage gambling remains problematic. As outlined in Article 246 of the criminal code, South Korea imposes stiff fines up to ₩10 million and even multi-year prison sentences for unlawful gambling. Yet enforcement remains inconsistent, especially for privileged celebrities flouting the rules. Their slaps on the wrist contrast with harsher treatment of ordinary citizens.

As this analysis reveals, the complex relationship between gambling legislation and culture across Korea resists easy explanation. While the majority of gaming remains clearly illegal, exceptions apply when the state can profitably regulate and tax selected areas like horse racing, lotteries and casinos for foreigners. Yet, even South Korea’s tightly controlled lawful gambling markets cannot satisfy many citizens’ demand for wagering opportunities. Until cultural attitudes and legal frameworks evolve in tandem, unlawful gambling seems destined to thrive in Korea’s gray market shadows despite the associated risks and penalties.