Korean pop culture is a hit globally. Fans from around the world are now more aware of Korea, its society, heritage, and culture. High profile celebrities have throngs of avid fans and followers that seem to watch their every move. In recent months, however, Korean pop (K-pop) stars and gambling seem to have a strong relationship. Local Korean authorities charged six high-profile stars caught engaging in illegal gambling.
Aside from illegal gambling, these stars allegedly are also guilty of police bribery. To those unfamiliar with Korean gambling laws, Koreans are not allowed to gamble for monetary pleasure. The only gambling facility they can enter is the sole casino in Kangwon Land, located in a remote resort about three hours away from Seoul. The law applies even when they gamble outside of Korea’s borders. This means that they cannot gamble even when they are out of the country.
The Korean government allows some form of gambling as a means of promoting public welfare or tourism. Some Koreans are allowed to enter foreigner-only casinos only if they bring in tourists willing to spend their money in the casino. Most of the Korean stars caught recently engaged in online sports betting, which is also illegal in Korea.
Sports Toto is allowed in the country since it is essentially government-operated and can be easily classified as a type of lottery. Sports Toto in Korea started as a way to raise funds for the 2002 Japan and Korea World Cup. Fixed-odds betting through an online bookmaker is illegal as well but a more related Sports Proto with smaller payouts and lower odds than several internationally based betting sites.
Whilst gambling is widely illegal in Korea and often frowned upon by society, it is fairly popular. The National Gambling Control Commission reported that the illegal gambling market is estimated to be approximately 75 trillion won, with most of the earnings coming from offline spots, underground casinos, betting centres, and online websites. The Korea Sports Promotion Foundation reported that illegal gambling websites in Korea tremendously increased of up to 25% in the past four years. Many of the gamblers can easily access these websites through their mobile phones.
South Korea for one is a popular destination for eSports. Whilst the National Government considers the activity a legal sport, it is a hotbed for gambling activities. ESports enthusiasts know that more money can be made by betting on illegal websites because of the better odds they can get.
Another clear example of the popularity of gambling in South Korea is the presence of Kangwon Land. The lone casino for South Koreans, despite being in a remote location, is highly visited by the locals. In fact, some have to reserve a table if they want to play in the casino. Others fall in line for hours so they can spend a few hours inside.
For many instances, several Korean pop stars have been involved in many illegal gambling activities, most notably sports betting. Some of them make the mistake of making repeated apologies but more often than not, their luck runs out and the public won’t accept them anymore. K-pop stars take the risk in gambling and betting their career, hoping they won’t get caught or the public will accept them back.
Why do stars risk everything by gambling? Could it be the exclusivity and the glamour these casinos give them? Or it could be they were already gamblers even before they became famous. Whatever reason they have, these stars have made headlines not for their single or album but for their involvement in illegal gambling.
Yoo Soo-young, more popularly known as Shoo, is a member of S.E.S. and was extremely popular in the 1990s. Charged with habitual gambling, Shoo was found to have gambled on several occasions whilst in a foreign country, with a total gambling money amounting to 790 million won.
A member of the boy band, H.O.T, Tony An was found guilty of engaging in illegal sports betting where hundreds of billions of won in bets were placed. The Korean pop star received a six-month prison sentence and a one year probation. In addition to the prison sentence, broadcast networks were not allowed to show any of H.O.T.’s songs for two years. Comedians Lee Soo Geun and Yang Sae Hyang were also part of the trial.
Kim Joon Ho is an award-winning veteran comedian and executive chairman of Busan International Comedy Festival who was also implicated in a gambling scandal. The star of 2 Days and 1 Night’s gambling activities was revealed when police investigated Jung Joon Young’s mobile phone over the latter’s involvement in an explicit sex video scandal. As a result, Ho canceled all his shows.
Another popular Korean star involved in gambling is Cha Tae Hyun who is also from the 2 Days and 1 Night show. Hyun apparently played golf with Kim Joon Ho and Jung Joon Young which involved betting with money whilst they were out of the country. Hyun became popular when he co-starred with Jun Ji Hyun in the film, My Sassy Girl.
Shing Jung-hwan returned to South Korea in 2011 to accept the charges of illegal gambling. Shin allegedly spend hundreds of millions of won in the Philippines in gambling. Shin is known for having gambling problems but the local authorities began looking into his case after a South Korean sued Shin for using his passport as collateral for borrowing money for gambling. Eyewitnesses reported that Shin played baccarat at the W Hotel Casino in Cebu, Philippines. Prior to this, Shin was fined for gambling in a foreigner-only casino in 2005 and was sued for unpaid gambling debt whilst playing in Kangwon Land.
Another boy band member of the rival Shinhwa is Andy Lee. Lee issued an apology to his fans and received a fine for engaging in illegal sports betting.
Jung Jin Woo is a member of the pop band M2M and received previous warnings about his gambling activities as early as 2007. Court documents revealed that he was also caught betting on illegal websites from January to June 2011 but was not given a prison sentence because Woo asked his stepfather to admit to the crime. The
In 2014, Woo was again caught engaging in illegal sports betting and was given a one-year prison sentence. The Seoul District Court claims that Woo reportedly spent a whopping 3.4 billion won in gambling and has even agreed to work as an advertiser for the gambling websites.
These stars have received harsh backlash from their fans, particularly because in South Korea, these K-pop idols are highly revered, often seen as innocent and hardworking. Over the years, however, many are claiming about the bad influence these Korean stars are setting for the youth.