Gambling Addiction Threatens Lives - Thursday 29th of December 2005

On Christmas day a 54-year-old woman threw herself to her death from the fourth floor of a hotel cafeteria of local casino Kangwon Land,

Identified only as Kim, a rope was found tied around her neck when she was confirmed dead from the fall after being taken to a nearby hospital.

She is believed to have lost about 100 million won at the casino.

Police said that Kim, who owned a hair shop in Yongju, North Kyongsang Province, was a pathological gambler, visiting the casino 196 times this year.

According to police, Kim came to Kangwon Land 20 days a month, the maximum time allowed.

``She was seen gambling alone since she first came to the casino in November last year,’’ a police officer said.

Her suicide was not an isolated incident as the number of pathological gamblers in the nation increases.

A 51-year-old man, identified as Kim, took his own life in a hotel room at the casino on Dec. 15.

He lost about 2.1 billion won over one year, visiting the casino more than 100 times.

He left a suicide note to his family and debtors, saying that he made his fortune over his lifetime by his own efforts but went bankrupt from gambling.

Kangwon Land, the first local casino to allow Koreans to gamble when it opened in October 2000, is gaining in popularity.

Last year, the number of gamblers at Kangwon Land located in Kangwon Province, more than doubled to 1.78 million compared to 2001.

An average of 4,890 gamblers spend about 2 billion won at the casino every day, boosting the staggering regional economy suffering from a decline in the mining sector.

The recent suicides caused by heavy gambling losses shed light, however, on the other side of the casino business.

Since the casino’s inception in 2000, 17 gamblers have committed suicide after gambling away large sums of money.

The figure is, however, an underestimate, according to a report released during the parliamentary inspection this year.

The report says the number of crimes, such as homicide, robbery, rape, burglary and violence rose from 296 in 1999 to 409 in 2000 and 334 last year in the province of Chongson.

Since last October, the casino has restricted the number of visiting days for gamblers, to curb the harmful effects of gambling. Ordinary gamblers can visit up to 20 days a month while VIP members are restricted to 15 days a month.

Despite the rules, addicted gamblers sometimes come to the casino 20 days a month.

In November, more than 4,800 gamblers used the casino for up to 20 days a month, while 4,200 gamblers visited it for 21 to 30 days a month.

The casino has operated a prevention center for addicted gamblers since September in 2001.

Last year, about 1,600 gambling addicts received counseling at the center.

The figure is a fourfold increase from the 390 addicts counseled in 2003.

For most, there is no cure for their gambling addiction. ``There is no way to restrict addicts from using the casino just because they are addicted,’’ a casino official said.

The center has only three counselors with 0.1 percent of the casino’s total budget.

Experts said that gambling addiction is closely linked to other personal and social problems such as bankruptcy, family breakdowns, domestic abuse, assault, fraud, theft and even homelessness.

The government needs to set up a special care center for gambling addicts, experts say.

``It is necessary for gamblers to perceive gambling as entertainment with a sound mindset,’’ the office of the casino said.

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