If asked to create a list of countries where it would be almost impossible to forecast an upturn in the number of casinos and integrated resorts, South Korea would not occupy a high position.
This is because Korean citizens are not legally permitted to gamble by Korean criminal law, whether it be in their home country or any other location around the world.
The only exception is a solitary casino a few hours from the capital of Seoul in Gangwon Province. It is called Kangwon Land and features over 1,300 slot and video machines.
Non-Korean visitors are allowed to gamble in all of South Korea’s 18 casinos as a bid to enhance the local economy.
But local tourism could now gain further boosts in the future by the decision to position casinos within even grander integrated resorts.
The pull of China
Macau has become a well-known hotbed for keen gamblers from both China and Hong Kong, and it has developed over time to overhaul Las Vegas as the gambling capital of the world.
Over 30 million visitors arrived in 2016 and wagered over four times more in the same year than casinos on the Vegas strip.
Many other countries are now looking to slipstream in behind Macau and make their own impressions on keen Chinese gamblers.
Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines are among the countries of southeast Asia to have already launched their own resorts. South Korea is now the latest to look to secure a piece of the pie.
The pull of integrated resorts
Singapore used to be the same as South Korea from a gambling perspective. Concerns over problem gambling meant that casinos were no-go areas.
However, integrated resorts offer far more than just a casino where visitors can wager and locations that fail to accept them run the risk of falling behind the rest of the world economically.
Such grand establishments that combine luxury hotels, shopping malls, entertainment venues, fine-dining restaurants and places to house conventions can work wonders for tourism.
Singapore made its switch in 2005, deciding that the pull of more vibrancy and excitement in its cities was worth the social cost that may also be created.
Two integrated resorts were then built and gambling approved by the government.
The result between 2009 and 2017 was that visitor numbers to Singapore leapt 79% and tourist expenditure increased by 113%.
Another positive lies in the increased availability of employment for locals based near these resorts, with staff needed to work in these hotels, shopping malls and restaurants.
Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort
According to Bloomberg, Grant Govertsen, head of Asia equity research at Union Gaming, stated in a phone interview that South Korea’s previous casinos “all sucked”.
Then the Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort began its first phase of opening in April 2017.
Among the plans for the full resort are four hotel brands, a theme park, shopping malls and 40 restaurants. The casino was eventually opened in February.
Landing International relocated its casino from the Hyatt Regency and successfully received authorisation to increase the size of the gaming floor.
The original floor stood at 800 square metres, offering visitors the choice of 28 gaming tables, alongside 16 slot and electronic table games.
This has now grown to 5,500 square metres, with 239 slot and electronic table games and 155 gaming tables on which visitors can enjoy blackjack, roulette and Chinese dice game Sic Bo.
What’s more, there are a selection of different poker variations available, such as Hold’em, stud, three-card and Poker 36, which has many similarities with Hold’em, except all of the cards between two and five have been removed from the deck.
There are multiple different game areas too, with the Pavilion catering for the general visitor and the D’Solitaire Club focussed on appeasing any high rollers and VIPs.
Jeju Dream Tower
Jeju Shinhwa World Marriott Resort is not the only integrated resort on the South Korean island.
There is the Jeju Dream Tower, located closer to the airport and featuring a 38-floor hotel and a larger casino.
All of the hotel rooms provide direct access to a casino floor that spans 9,120 square metres and accommodates 190 game tables and 420 slot machines.
This is broken down into international game tables, mass tables, high-limit tables and premium tables.
Like its integrated resort rival, the Jeju Dream Tower casino is for foreigners only.
The wonder now is whether South Korea will emulate Singapore again and allow their own to play too?