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NK casino reopens after Kim Jong Il’s Beijing visit

Posted December. 29, 2010 11:04,   


A casino in the North Korean coastal city of Rason (formerly Rajin and Sonbong) that helps the North earn foreign currency officially resumed operations two months ago, a Chinese source said Monday.

China is known to have allowed its nationals to visit the casino, whose main customers are Chinese.

“Rason Casino is openly doing business and 30 to 40 customers visit every day,” the source based in Hunchun in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of China’s Jilin province said Monday. “You can get a tourist visa for North Korea in a day in Yanji (China), which makes visiting a lot easier.”

In addition to those from Korean autonomous prefectures such as Yanji, casino patrons also hail from Harbin, Shenyang and Changchun in northeastern China. They arrive in Yanji, go through the Hunchun customs office 90 minutes away by car, and enter the North Korean village of Wonjong-ri.

They then travel for another 90 minutes by car to the casino. In Wonjong-ri, taxis wait for Chinese visitors who enter the North on foot.

The reopening of the casino was apparently possible thanks to China’s tolerance or cooperation. Formerly known as “Emperor Casino,” the facility was opened by Hong Kong Emperor Group in 2000 and closed at the end of 2004, when a Chinese official from a Korean autonomous prefecture was found to have gambled away a huge sum of public funds at the casino.

Beijing cracked down on gamblers and stopped its nationals from entering the North, and urged Pyongyang to close the casino. Back then, Chinese media reported that the casino earned at least 1 billion yuan (151 million U.S. dollars) per year.

The casino operator is reportedly based in Hong Kong, and probably Emperor Group.

Operations at the casino conspicuously resumed after August, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Beijing and Chinese President Hu Jintao agreed on the development of Rason.

Another source said, however, “In fact, the casino secretly resumed operations a year ago. It now openly attracts customers.”

Approximately 15 minutes away from downtown Rajin by car, the casino is also known to house a five-star hotel, room salons (high-class hostess bars), luxury restaurants and saunas. The source said, “Room salons have as hostesses young Russian, Chinese and North Korean women. Prostitution occurs openly.”