One of the most mysterious places at any of the Olympic venues here has been impossible to ignore. For anyone driving into the Alpensia resort, the de facto nerve center of the Winter Games, the signs for a casino are posted everywhere.
It’s an unusual thing to see in the heart of the Olympics, largely because few people who are at the Games in any capacity (athlete, media member, coach) have much time to gamble. But at other times of year, the Alpensia resort is part ski lodge, part water park with several hotels and restaurants catering to international tourists. So maybe having a casino tucked behind a door adjoining the lobby of a Holiday Inn makes sense.
Finally, one night, my curiosity led me inside. Would it be full of partying athletes? Maybe some drunk fans or IOC muckety-mucks? But as I approached the door, where they asked for my passport, a large sign indicated there was one group of people I wouldn’t see inside: Locals.
According to the World Casino Directory, there are 23 casinos in South Korea scattered throughout the country. But by law, there’s only one — the Kangwon Land Casino & Hotel, located in a remote area roughly 55 miles from Pyeongchang — in which South Korean citizens are allowed to gamble.
It’s the product of an evolving set of laws here that would be unusual, to say the least, to American sensibilities. Whereas South Koreans can gamble on an array of games including a lottery, horse racing, boat racing and cycling, casino gambling is illegal — even for Koreans who travel outside the country.