North Korea’s embattled regime has reportedly okayed betting on horse racing in a bid to generate some badly needed revenue.
On Friday, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency heralded the arrival of real-money gambling on that weekend’s races at the Mirim Horse Racing Club near the country’s capital Pyongyang. Reuters quoted Korean Central Television reports indicating that visitors aged 12 and over were allowed to participate in a raffle-based betting system, provided they wagered using international currency such as Chinese yuan or US dollars.
Gambling is traditionally off-limits to North Korean residents, who until Saturday could face up to three years of hard labor if caught gambling on racing. In 2013, shortly after supreme leader Kim Jong-un assumed power, he justified the arrest (and subsequent execution) of his uncle Jang Song-thaek on allegations that he was involved in numerous forbidden activities, including gambling.
North Korea still has a few brick-and-mortar casinos in operation, but they are accessible only by the few brave international tourists who dare visit the Hermit Kingdom. One of these venues is located in the basement of the Yanggakdo Hotel in Pyongyang, and is run by a division of Macau casino operator SJM Holdings.
Another casino is based in Rason, just across the border from China. This venue is run by Hong Kong’s Emperor Group and caters almost exclusively to a Chinese clientele. NK News reports suggest the existence of a third casino near Sinjiju in the west of the country that is only sporadically open.
This spring also saw the regime invite international investors to help finance new casino projects in two regions; Namyang, near the Chinese border, and the Mount Kumkang resort area near the border with South Korea. The invite also included a proposed cruise casino operation.
In April 2016, North Korea temporarily blocked access to a host of international websites, including gambling sites, that resident foreigners had previously been allowed to access. North Korean citizens have no access to internet sites based outside the country and thus have no online gambling access whatsoever.
North Korea has reportedly established a small army of online soldiers based in other countries that run online gambling operations to generate badly needed hard currency for the cash-strapped regime. North Korean hackers have also been accused of orchestrating last year’s Bangladeshi bank heist that laundered $81m through Philippine brick-and-mortar casinos.