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Illegal Gambling: Korea’s Next Big Addiction

In January, two baseball players, Jung Hyun-wook and Kwon Ki-young, were revealed to have played illegal sports betting and online illegal gambling games. Their qualification as players was suspended as a punishment. Even though some people have a negative perception of illegal gambling, many are not able to get out of its strong addiction. Therefore, the Sungkyun Times (SKT) is going to introduce some of the types of illegal gambling, the reasons it has not been eradicated, and some possible solutions for a better future.

What Is Illegal Gambling?

Differences Between Legal and Illegal Gambling in Korea

Gambling means the action of betting on uncertain results with the risk of losing money. The standards of the differences between legal and illegal gambling would be time, place, job, and money. For example, playing traditional Korean games such as Go-Stop or Yut with relatives during a holiday with a small amount of money is regarded as entertainment. At present, there are seven legal gambling industries including the Korea Racing Authority (KRA), the Lottery Commission, and the Korea Sports Promotion Foundation (KSPO). For example, all sports gambling websites except for the website of the KSPO and an official gambling website called Betman are illegitimate. Many people start gambling with the expectation of earning a great amount of money. While legal gambling allows people to bet 100,000 won in total, illegal gambling players can bet as much money as they want with the expectation of earning money as well.

Current Status of Illegal Gambling

Some public figures were known to have been involved in illegal gambling. In January 2021, Jung Hyun-wook and Kwon Ki-young, baseball players of the Doosan Bears, were announced to have played illegal sports gambling. Both of their qualifications as players are in suspension, and their further punishments are under discussion. They are also prohibited from being paid during that period, and it actually seems difficult for them to play as pro baseball players again. Therefore, their punishment is getting the public’s attention. In addition to this case, the percentage of people participating in illegal gambling is getting higher in Korea as time goes by. For several years, online illicit gambling has increasingly been slipping out of the police dragnet with the usage of several methods. According to the National Gambling Control Commission, the amount of money used for illegal gambling reached 81.5 trillion won in 2019, which is about four times higher compared to that of legal gambling. Furthermore, data from the KSPO in September 2020 indicates that the number of illegal sports gambling websites increased by about 288% from 2019.

Baseball Players Involved in Illegal Gambling (sports.news.naver.com)

Reasons Why Illegal Gambling Has Not Been Eradicated

1.Drawbacks of Present Laws

There are some weaknesses regarding legal punishments for controlling illicit gambling. At the end of December 2020, the illegal sports gambling reporting center of the KSPO announced that they would implement a reporting reward system. The system, however, requires identity confirmation, and the reporters should reveal their identity to report illegal gambling websites. According to an Edaily interview, despite several attempts to implement reporting reward systems before, the system was not effective as anonymity was not fully guaranteed. A staff at Kangwon Land Casino mentions that many people did not report illegal casino activity since they were afraid that the report would reveal their identities. Moreover, there is a big weakness in laws regarding punishment. Article 246 of the Criminal Law indicates that illegal gamblers should get imprisonment for under three years or an obligation to pay a fine of up to 20 million won. However, the problem is that this law applies to habitual action. A lot of illegal gamblers who are prosecuted for the first time become free or get less degree of punishment. In the case of teenagers, most of them are n o t p u n i s h e d , and it can lead to continual illegal gambling even after they become adults.

Kangwon Land Casino (biz.khan.co.kr)

2.Lack of Monitoring System and Labor Force

Even though illegal gambling is being gradually systemized, the workforce is not enough to conduct the crackdown to eradicate illegal gambling. People use various ways to avoid investigation including using cloned phones, borrowedname bank accounts, and multiple IP addresses. Due to those methods, the officials are experiencing the difficulty of eradicating illegal gambling. The Asia Business Daily reported that two people who led others to illicit gambling sites were caught at the end of November last year. Those two people made a malicious application using people’s personal information. The investigation took a year since they lived abroad and was interrupted by using numerous borrowedphones, bank accounts, and emails. Even though the number of cases related to illegal gambling is increasing, the labor force to deal with it is not enough. Based on the data of October 2020, the National Gambling Control Commission only had nine staff. Among the nine workers, six workers censor both online and offline sites, while only three workers focus on reporting illegal gambling websites. What’s more, workers in this industry retire due to poor working environment and treatment.

3.Convenient and Easy Accessibility

People can easily access various illegal gambling sites through email, spam messages, and promotions on a social network. For example, some promotions on Facebook can lead people to participate in illegal gambling by playing some games without paying money. As those illegal games look like mobile games, it is hard for parents to notice that their children participate in illegal gambling. There is a loan for teenagers called the “Parents Loan,” which induces children to borrow money using their parents’ names to gamble illegally with a greater amount of money. Since those online promotions do not even require age verification, teenagers can easily access the sites. Moreover, the current pandemic seems to have made online illegal gambling sites more popular. An investigation done by the KSPO and a private organization from August to September 2020 shows that due to the closure of official legal gambling sites, the number of illegitimate gambling websites increased about 288%, and the number of promotions increased by 67% than that of 2019. Additionally, because of the pandemic, some offline sports games stopped, which resulted in higher demand for illegal gambling. While the sales of KRA in 2020 lost 6.2682 trillion won compared to the previous year, the reported number of illegal horse racing gambling sites increased by about 92.3%.

4.Strong Addiction

According to Jeon Hyung-hwan, a lawyer at the YK Judicial Corporation, the addiction rate of illegal gambling is two times higher than that of legal gambling. Since illegal gambling is free from regulations like time, place, and the amount of money, it makes people addicted to gambling more easily. Furthermore, gamblers have a higher possibility of committing secondary crimes. In order to prepare money for illegal gambling, some gamblers are involved in crimes such as theft, assault, fraud, and debenture. A task force composed of prosecutors, detectives, and crime specialists said that 1,651 people committed secondary crimes to prepare money for illegal gambling in 2020, which is two times higher than that of five years ago. According to OhmyNews’s interview in July 2019, a high school student borrowed money from seniors with high interest and was physically attacked by them when he did not pay the money back. Like this, an attempt to prepare money for illegal gambling can result in secondary crimes.

Police Receiving Reports About Illegal Gambling

Further Directions for Better Future

Management of Online and Offline Illegal Gambling

Currently, reinforcement of managing illegal gambling sites is urgently required. Kwak Dae-kyung, a professor of the College of Police and Criminal Justice at Dongguk University, asserted that the police and the public should work together to collect evidence and conduct an investigation. In order to make reporting more possible, reporting systems should be simplified, and the anonymity of reporters be guaranteed. Also, recruiting necessary professionals related to the work or scouting Information Technology (IT) talents who can hack into the servers and backtrack users’ IPs might be a good method to increase efficiency. For a more detailed investigation, making the task force would help workers only focus on their assigned work. Furthermore, in order to decrease the retirement rate and increase work efficiency, the recruitment must be based on regular staff recruitment, not contract worker recruitment like before.

Necessity of Strict Punishment

Current punishment does not burden people who are prosecuted for the first time due to laws related to habitual action. Since illegal gambling is a highly addictive crime, eradication is the most important thing to consider. Removing the precondition of habitual behavior is necessary to root out the crime of illegal gambling. Due to the enforced laws, illegal gamblers would hesitate or even stop gambling in illegal ways. Moreover, there should be rigid enforcement of regulations for teenage illegal gamblers as well. Even schools are not giving appropriate punishments to students who did illegal gambling. For teenaged illegal gamblers, the monetary penalty is ineffective as it only burdens their parents, not the teenagers themselves. Therefore, there should be a more effective punishment for them, such as giving them a directly related education on controlling themselves and a chance to meet adult offenders to make them realize the seriousness of illicit gambling.

Systematization of Treatment

Currently, treatments for illegal gamblers have not been popularized. Since the seriousness and strong addiction derived from illicit gambling is not known to the public, many people think this issue is just a little thing. In order to show the seriousness to the public, illegal gambling should be considered as the subject of legal treatment. In the Medical Treatment and Custody Act, illegal gambling is not included as the target of legal treatments now. The act is one of the punishments that imposes a certain treatment on the accused. Currently, this punishment is usually given to the accused who has a mental condition. Illegal gamblers should be involved in this category as well in order to prevent them from high addiction. In addition, the introduction of a systemized rehabilitation system is required. Both drug and behavior treatment is needed after the patients return to their homes. For keeping a healthy life pattern as they had before, there should be an individual or group counseling system that can help control patients’ life patterns.

Gaming Equipment Used in Illegal Gambling

Since the illegal gambling industry is getting bigger and bigger, people should be able to distinguish between legal and illegal gambling. Before illegal behaviors dominate legal acts, people should be aware of the dangers of addiction and how to deal with them. Also, in order to help addicted people recover to a healthy life, the treatment should be popularized and systemized as well. Not only people who are directly facing the problem of illegal gambling but also everyone should work together to eradicate illegal gambling.

윤지민  linda0202g.skku.edu

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