Monday, January 22, 2007

Korea’s particular geographic features, most notably that it is a peninsula, influence greatly its sociology, political climate, and cuisine. As evidenced in our previous post, the country's politics are often guided by the surrounding bodies of water: the Yellow Sea to the west, the East Sea (Sea of Japan) to the, uh, east, and the Korea Strait to the south (the Korea Strait separates Japan from Korea but the Japanese don't seem to complain or try to neutralize the name). The prevalent sea food, sea shanties, sea (name) changes and sea stories comprise a pelagic panoply of maritime culture which affects even the most inland, urban areas. While we are catching up on old news, the most important sea story of 2006 (scroll down to the section “Gambling Scandal") was so damaging, it nearly derailed the FTA talks.

A popular slot machine game, Pada Iyagi (Sea Story), was the cause of a political imbroglio, involving a number of high-ranking government officials. Last year, prosecutors arrested Baek Eeek, the director of the cultural media bureau at the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, among others. "Speculation of influence peddling mounted when it was found that Roh Ji-won, one of President Roh Moo-hyun's nephews, worked as an executive of a company acquired earlier this year by Zico Prime, the game’s distributor."

The games pay out winners with vouchers good for discounts at retail stores. Illegally, these vouchers were being redeemed by game-room operators for cash. The game room operators also, quite cleverly, discovered ways to re-program the automated machines to payout more often. The loosest slots in Korea became even looser. In September of last year, reporters claimed “Korea’s gaming rooms now outnumber 24-hour convenience stores about two to one - about 20,000 compared to 9,500.”

In the land of 24-hour convenience stores, this is significant. Unaware of the extent to which these gaming parlors infiltrated the urban landscape, apparantly, “Those arcades were set up even in residential areas, indicating gambling has penetrated ordinary people’s lives. A growing number of people became victims of the games _ many of them who lost money and whose life has deteriorated were those in the low-income bracket.”

EVEN IN RESIDENTIAL AREAS?! NOOOOOOoooooooo! How could these dastardly villains be left to spread satan’s seed, unchecked by the law?! That these rigged/illegal payout Pada Iyagi games are more popular than any of the legal slots suggests the "victims" are not "pathologically addicted", but rather rationally addicted.

Seoulitary Confinement resides in Seoul. But surely even our residential area was safe from the scourge. That is until, heading home, emerging from the subway station one evening after work, the following appeared:

These confiscated machines had been operating right under our nose, rigged to payout more often and hidden in parlors whose owners would readily exchange the winning vouchers for cash. Why had not we frequented these gaming rooms?! Another opportunity missed…


-al said...

you have done nothing but paint a beautiful picture of seoul. i hope you will be receiving some type of commendation from the korean government for your tireless efforts to promote the lovely city.

John said...

How do you always miss the boat? You love addicting things as much as anyone else...did this one just escape you?