South Korea doesn’t intend to regulate Starcraft like it regulates gambling, alcohol and drugs. Earlier this year, a National Assembly member from the ruling Saenuri Party proposed legislation to establish a National Addiction Control Committee. This bill also wanted to label multiplayer online gaming as a ‘major addictive element,’ which would grant the state greater control over its use. In late October, a gaming advocacy group opposed to the bill started a petition that quickly garnered several hundred thousand signatures.
On Wednesday, the government felt it necessary to declare that it wasn’t planning a new clampdown on online gaming. Lee Soo-myung, director at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, told the Korea Times that the government sympathized with the bill’s intentions, but it was “against managing game addiction in the same way as containing drugs, drinking and gambling.” The bill’s sponsor, conservative lawmaker Shin Eui-jin, believes over 6% of Koreans need help to deal with their addiction to games, gambling, alcohol and drugs (not all four at the same time, hopefully). Regardless, Lee insists the government’s position is that “gaming does not belong in this bill.”
ANYONE FOR K-PROP WAGERING?
Meanwhile, South Korea’s celebrity online sports betting scandal has claimed more casualties. Following in the footsteps of TV hosts Kim Yong-man and Tae Jae-hoon and comedian Lee Soo-geun, the finger of scorn has turned to TV host Lee Min-ho, aka Boom, who has reportedly copped to having wagered around KRW 30m (US $28k) on English Premier League matches via online gambling sites. Like his co-accused, an apologetic Boom has agreed to take a TV sabbatical while he contemplates his wicked ways.
Next to fall was comedian Yang Sae Hyung, followed in short order by former K-pop boy band member Andy Lee out of Shinhwa. Andy’s representatives issued a statement saying the star “apologized with a bowed head for causing many fans anxiety with this shameful activity.” Andy, who police say wagered around KRW 40m, had decided to “halt all official activities and try to have a time of self-reflection and examination.” Another former boy band icon, Tony An of H.O.T., was reportedly placed under ‘house arrest’ after his betting ways became public knowledge, prompting promoters to cancel two Christmas concerts.
Yoon Jae Pil, chief prosecutor of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s office, issued a statement this week saying all of the accused had confessed, but only after they’d “stated differently through their lawyers.” As for their fate, “because they are public figures, they will face consequences.” The police made 31 other arrests including non-celebrity bettors who will also face consequences, although they’ll likely get to avoid the whole groveling public apology charade.
Police also busted agents who connected bettors with the online sites, as well as the gambling ring’s two organizers. The ring is alleged to have handled around $134m in wagers from celebs and non-celebs alike. The country’s only legal online wagering outlet, Sports Toto, offers a limited form of sports betting but caps wagers at KRW 100k ($94).
tvN producer Ahn Sang-whi told the Chosun Ilbo that celebrities found gambling on their smartphones to be a way of dealing with the pressures of fame, since their tight schedules preclude getting hammered and their recognizable faces make it hard for them to hang out in public without being mobbed. “They can’t even date for fear of getting their picture all over the gossip pages, so their only outlet is gambling.” Perhaps Greenpeace could launch a protest to save the Korean sports betting whales?