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South Korea Update 2016

The South Korean gambling industry has seen progress in 2016 even though Koreans continued to be forced to travel outside the country, or to the remote Kangwon Land Casino to gamble in 2016. Kangwon Land is still the only Korean casino to accept play from nationals. It opened in 2000.

Following is a recap of important developments and the current state of affairs in the South Korean casino industry as of early Q42016.

South Korea saw some of the same movement that other Asian nations, such as Vietnam, experienced in 2016 including a greater influx of VIP Chinese gamblers who currently prefer to stay away from Macau due to Beijing's continued crackdown there.

By Q3 all of the casinos seemed to have recovered from a disastrous decline in 2015 and early 2016 visits due to fears of a disease called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS. In July, Paradise Company Limited was showing a 99.2% increase year-on-year in total sales for June.

Between January and August, a million people had visited the country's casinos.  Grand Korea Leisure Co Ltd (GKL) posted a 38 percent jump in profits for Q2. Kangwon Land posted steady profits due to mass gaming by local players even as VIP numbers were down during the MERS crisis. Q4 saw a doubling of profits and it has posted steady increases since then.

The republic also saw a faction of the government propose opening up the country's casinos to locals, who are barred from playing at any of the seventeen licensed casinos except at the remote Kangwon Land Casino at the foot of Mount Harnbaeksan in Sabuk-eup.

In another corollary to Vietnam, the progress of developing casino Integrated Resorts (IR) continued with America's Mohegan Sun securing a license to build a KRW1.5 trillion (US$1.21 billion) casino and entertainment facility on Yeongjong Island, next to Incheon International Airport. Inspire Integrated Resort is expected to open in 2020. Inspire will open well after it's nearest major competitor, Paradise City, a project that broke ground in 2014, opens early April of 2017 at a cost of $1.7b.

Other news saw what appears to be the end of Caesars quest for an IR in the country and a reaffirmation of Las Vegas Sands Corp's desire to build a mega-resort and casino in Busan. The company says it would invest as much as KRW12 trillion (US$10.8 billion) if the government were to allow local citizens access to the facilities.

Jeju Dream Tower is once again on track to be built at the busy Nohyeong-dong junction in Cheju, on Jeju Island with 200 gaming tables and ten times as many slots as most Jeju casinos.


The Casinos of South Korea

South Korea has had legalized gambling for foreigners since 1967 with the first casino, Incheon Olympos Hotel Casino, opening the same year. It wasn't until the Kangwon Land Casino opened in 2000 that denizens and expatriate South Koreans could gamble.  As of 2016 Kangwon Land Casino is still the only place South Koreans can play casino games legally. Many of the other 16 currently operating casinos are small venues located inside 4-star and 5-star hotels catering to foreign visitors. However, licenses have been issued and construction has begun on full-scale integrated resorts such as Paradise City and Inspire Integrated Resort.

Eight of the seventeen casinos and one of the three horse racing venues in South Korea are located on Jeju Island in the cities of Jeju and Seogwipo - each on opposite sides of the island.  Jeju Province is a tropical paradise with natural hot springs, volcanic outcroppings, waterfalls and high elevation volcanic mountains. Halla Mountain rises some 1,950 meters (6,400 ft) and is the tallest mountain in South Korea. Although there are no special administrative districts for the purpose of gambling, an effort had been made to place all casinos in the Jeju Province to keep them at bay from the general population. Other than Seoul, its neighbor IncheonBusan, and a few other scattered concerns, most gambling takes place on Jeju Island. One foreign-only casino outside of the major population centers that is sure to see an influx of visitors by 2018 is Alpensia Casino. The casino is located in the resort that will be the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

Kangwon Land Casino, open to local and foreign players, is by far the most active of all casinos in the country. In the year 2000, gaming revenue for Kangwon Land was KRW78,676,000 with revenue for all "foreign only" casinos coming in at KRW303,045,000. By 2011 those numbers had changed dramatically with Kangwon Land pulling in US$1,078,987,000 and all other casinos combined posting gross gaming revenue of US$1,027,299,000. By 2013, the last year for which full numbers are available, that ratio still held true with US$2,647,511,000 aggregate GGR comprising $1.37b generated in the 16 foreign only casinos and $1.28b occurring at Kangwon Land.

Not counting Kangwon Land, the biggest players in 2011 by market share according to data from UNLV were Paradise with 48.3% of the market and Grand Korea Leisure (GKL) with 46.2%. These two concerns had licenses for five and three casinos respectively, with the balance of 5% market share going to the other 8 foreigners only casinos combined.

The casinos coming to South Korea soon

South Korea has a lower capital expenditure requirement for integrated resorts than many other Asian countries at US$850m. According to the Korea Tourism Organization (KRO) the 41 and 51 percent drop in visits for June and July 2015 were more than offset by increases of 107 and 170.5 percent for the same months respectively in 2016. July this year also saw a 219 percent growth in visits from East Asia and the Pacific as well as 258 percent growth in tourist visits from China alone. These numbers, once stabilized, along with ever increasing Korean income and a penchant for entertainment, seem to make the country a good bet for casino operators, even without competing for local gaming business with Kangwon Land.

So far three casino resorts have been licensed in South Korea - LOCZ Korea, a joint venture between Caesars and Lippo; Paradise SegaSammy Co Ltd, a JV between local operator Paradise and Japanese video gaming and pachinko machine maker Sega Sammy; and the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority in JV with KCC Corporation and Miura Holdings.

Resorts World Jeju, a joint venture of Genting Singapore PLC and Landing International Development Limited broke ground on February 12, 2015, but have yet to garner a license.

LOCZ Korea was granted the first preliminary license in 2014. However, due to the company's ongoing bankruptcy potential, Lippo pulled out of the deal and it's unclear if Caesars will try to pursue another partner for its Incheon casino. Construction has not begun on Caesars Incheon.

Paradise will use its current license from Paradise Casino Incheon. 

Paradise City - In June, Paradise Co Ltd announced that Paradise City would open in April 2017 in Incheon, near the capital city of Seoul. It will be the first of at least three casino resorts to open by 2020. Phase one of the 330,000 sq m (3.55 million sq ft) $1.1b resort will include a casino with 350 slot machines, 378 electronic gaming tables, and 160 live dealer tables. A hotel and convention center is also expected to open with the casino. Spas, entertainment centers, and cultural centers are expected to fill out the footprint in later stages. Construction is expected to be completed by February 2018.

Resorts World Jeju - Slated to open in stages beginning in 2017, the $2.2b RWJ will be one the country's largest resorts covering some 2.5 million sq m (27 million sq ft, 620 acres). No machine or table count is available yet, but earlier comments from Landing Int'l indicated 200 VIP gaming tables and 600 mass market tables, the number of electronic gaming devices has not been revealed.

In addition to the casino, a family theme park is slated to open. "Jeju Myths and History Theme Park" will feature over 20 rides and attractions in seven separate zones - each themed after myths and legends of the world. A water park and one of South Korea's largest retail, food and beverage complexes are also planned.  Expect about 2,000 hotel rooms, luxury villas, and Jeju's first 6-star hotel and destination spa.

Jeju Dream Tower - While it's unclear whether Lotte Tour eventually broke ground after all projects were stopped by the Jeju governor, the resort is still expected to be opened in 2018 by all indications. Initial plans called for a hotel with 1,600 guest rooms and suites, non-gaming amenities and a casino with 400 slot machines and 200 gaming tables. China State Construction Engineering Corporation was selected to build the facilities.

Inspire Incheon Resort - U.S. tribal casino operator Mohegan Sun is working with partners and the Incheon International Airport to create an entertainment and casino center with a gambling floor of 20,000 sq m (215,278 sq ft) featuring 250 gaming tables and 1,500 slot machines. A land deal for the 2.6 sq km (1 sq mile) property was signed in August. The casino is expected to open in 2020. Phase I is expected to see US$1.6b invested, with a potential total investment of US$5 billion.

In addition to gaming facilities, three hotel towers will feature 1,350 luxury rooms and suites. A Paramount Studios theme park and an ecology-themed adventure park are also planned along with a 15,000-seat arena, the largest live event venue in South Korea. Retail outlets will occupy 20,000 sq m (215,000 sq ft) along with 20 food and beverage outlets. There will also be 4,500 sq m of space devoted to Korean cosmetics and beauty.

Caesars Casino Incheon - Ground has not been broken on the planned $739 million integrated resort and casino. It's unclear if the project will proceed.

Twentieth Century Fox World Korea - Another proposed integrated resort in Korea that  will likely never see the light of day. There have been no new reports since last update on the project that was to include a Fox theme park, six-star hotel, casino, movie complex, premium shopping outlet mall, 18-hole golf course and a marine sports center. Problems securing the land may have contributed to the project's demise.

Available Casino Games in South Korea

Far and away the most popular game in South Korea is baccarat as it is the game with the most tables at every casino we have reviewed here. Based on that it is safe to say that blackjack is next, followed by roulette. Most casinos only have one or two Tai Sai or "Sic-Bo" games but many also offer what is known in the west as Wheel-of-Fortune, but referred to as Big Wheel in most of Asia. Many of the casinos offer a token number of slot machines, both reel classics, and newer multi-line video slots. Kangwon Land also operate over 100 electronic table games.  These are usually roulette tables with a physical wheel and individual betting terminals.

Pari-mutuel facilities in South Korea

There are currently three horse racing tracks in South Korea. Seoul Race Park and Busan-Gyeongnam Race Park run thoroughbred races with about 100 meets per year, and Jeju Race Park runs Korean native ponies. The Korean native pony has been designated National Monument No. 347.

All pari-mutuel betting is handled by Korean Racing Authority, established 1923. Betting at the parks and in any of the Off Track Betting plazas operated by them is done through betting terminals connected to the main Pari-Mutuel Betting Control Center at Seoul Race Park.

There are 30 KRA Plazas in South Korea with most of them in the Seoul metro area. About 70% of all action on any given race day goes through Plaza terminals. The Plazas are open all week as community activity, culture and leisure centers even though racing only occurs on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The gambling economy of South Korea and conclusion

Total gaming revenue is now available for the years up to 2013 showing GGR of US$2,647,511,000 for 2013 comprising $1.37b generated in the 16 foreign only casinos and $1.28b occurring at Kangwon Land. Growth was pretty much flat between 2007 and 2011 with a big uptick in 2012, a constant climb in 2013, steady growth in 2014, and a disappointing 2015 year with GGR falling 10% due to MERS fears, according to Fitch Ratings. The numbers for 2007 to 2013 are according to a Gambling Compliance powered report by UNLV.

However, PwC had reported higher numbers 2006 - 2010 and their projection showed relatively flat growth for the last five years in the PwC 2011 Global Gaming Outlook. The data nearly merges by 2013 with UNLV reporting $2.647b and PwC predicting $2,770b aggregate GGR for that year.

The big take away from these various statistics is that Kangwon Land, because it is open to nationals, does as much business as every other casino combined. Kangwon Land is located about three hours drive from the main population center of Seoul/Incheon, five hours from Busan, and four hours from Daegu.

The coming integrated resorts will need to rely heavily on non-gaming attractions in order to thrive in a market bereft of local players. Fortunately, Koreans are avid seekers of entertainment in many forms, per capita and discretionary income is up consistently every year for the last decade, and there is always a chance the government will relax its stance and allow Koreans to play in more casinos.

South Korea is a country in East Asia with legal gambling. There are 10 cities with gambling facilities in South Korea which have 32 legal gambling facilities available in total.

The types of gambling available in South Korea are: casinos, horseracing tracks.

The largest gambling city in South Korea is Jeju with 10 gambling facilities, 542 tables games, 626 gaming, slot, and video poker machines.
The largest casino in the entire country of South Korea is Mohegan INSPIRE Entertainment Resort which is located in Incheon. Mohegan INSPIRE Entertainment Resort has 250 table games, 1,500 gaming and video poker machines.

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South Korea Casino Map
South Korea Casino List
About South Korea Gaming
South Korea Gambling Facts
South Korea Casino News

South Korea Stats

  • Licensed Casinos: 32
  • Horse Tracks: 3
  • Licensed Bingo: 0
  • Lotteries: 0
  • Table games: 1,643
  • Slot machines: 4,557
  • Poker tables: 13
  • Simulcasting: 0
  • Greyhound Tracks: 0
  • Cities with Gambling: 10
  • Sportsbetting Parlours: 0
  • Casino Hotels: 29
  • Venues: 46
  • Restaurants: 136
  • Minimum Bet: USD 0.01
  • Maximum Bet: USD 100000
  • Total Casino sq/ft: 1,200,379 sq/ft
  • Total Convention sq/ft: 434,625 sq/ft