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Video Gambling Is Making Comeback

Posted December. 25, 2006 07:37,   


The setting is a gambling arcade in Cheonho-dong, Gangdong-gu, Seoul, at 9:00 p.m. on December 22.

Inside this arcade, with its dim lights and cigarette smoke, 70 game machines are running non-stop with their brilliant screens and electronic sounds.

There are 15 customers in the arcade. However, each customer is using four, five machines at a time, so none of the machines are idle. Across a two-lane road, not even 20 meters away, is a police box that belongs to the public safety division of a police station nearby in charge of gambling arcade regulation duties.

After the “Sea Story” sensation this June, gambling arcades disappeared following the nationwide extensive crackdown drive by the prosecution and the police. However, they are back now, and they are thriving.

As gambling arcades begin to make their comeback, people who had lost large sums of money on games such as Sea Story are again gathering at the arcades, hoping to win back what they lost. Consequently, the arcade owners are doing extremely well to the point that there aren’t enough machines to go around. Most arcades do not have signboards outside and have covered their windows with black vinyl so that the inside cannot be seen.

At another arcade around the same time in Donam-dong, Seongbuk-gu, a female employee is explaining in detail to the customers about various functions such as “foreshadowing” or “successive hits.”

“If you see a white diamond in the middle, you get the highest score, and if the screen becomes dark with sounds like water bubbles popping, it’s a “foreshadowing” of a big score that is soon to come. We have “successive hits” as well. It’s really not that different from Sea Story.”

“Foreshadowing” and “successive hits” are standards for judging whether or not the game is a gambling game, and are subject to regulation.

The games that have become widely popular after the Sea Story incident are “Diamond” and “Iceland Adventure.” The titles and screens are slightly different but the game process is nearly identical to Sea Story.

Illegal exchanges of gift certificates used as prizes into cash are also still going on. At an arcade near Yeongdeungpo Station, a small change booth is located right next to the entrance of the arcade. There, gift certificates with a face value of 5,000 won were being exchanged for 4,500 won in cash.

Most of the people who frequent these arcades are small business owners in their 30s to 50s, and people who do manual labor. A few matrons in their 40s or 50s could also be seen. Most of them said, “I’ve come to win back the money I lost playing Sea Story.”

A man we met in an arcade in Bongcheon-dong, Gwanak-gu, who said he was in his 40s and did manual labor, said, “I lost 10 million won playing Sea Story. I’ve come back in hopes of winning back my capital.”

Following the recent reopening of such gambling arcades, the prosecution and police have decided to extend the crackdown period, which had been scheduled to end by December 31, until April 28, 2007, when the gift certificate system will be abolished.

wing@donga.com dnsp@donga.com