South Korea--The only casino where South Koreans can
legally gamble stands on a hillside above a slag heap
in the Taebaek mountains, a region known for its natural
beauty and grinding poverty.
years ago miners from valley towns like Sabuk 300 kilometers
(180 miles) east of Seoul dug the coal that fueled South
Korea's rapid industrial growth.
closures came with a slump in demand in the 1990s and
the population of Taebaek City, the region's hub, shrank
from 120,000 to 54,000.
miners were protesting in the streets. The government
decided to give them a chance," said Moon Chan-Ho,
head of staff training at the Kangwon
Land Casino where more than 4,000 players spend 1.7
million dollars a day.
Kangwon Land won a monopoly to open the casino and installed
30 tables and 480 slot machines in 2000.
was an explosion when it opened," said one roulette
player, who remembers the lines of cars snaking up the
mountain pass and how it was quicker to hike up to the
casino than drive.
at the seams it was replaced by a new casino with 100
tables and 960 slots, the second largest in Asia, that
opened in March this year inside a 500 room five-star
are fat for the publicly listed company that is 51 percent
government-owned with foreign investors holding 23 percent.
casino culture is new to Koreans, who like to bet on horse
and bicycle racing and have their own traditional card
Koreans don't get it," said Moon, who has written
three books on casino gambling, including a "how-to"
guide for gamblers.
believe in luck. But they haven't realised that the casino
Land is planning rapid expansion and a promotion effort
to attract more high rollers and foreign gamblers. An
18-hole golf course will open in 2004 and a ski resort
the following year.