The inaugural meeting of the “Hold’em Pub” Illegal Response Task Force took place in Seoul late last week. The task force includes representatives of several government ministries, as well as the National Police Agency.
The group discussed a variety of measures designed to curb the growth of “hold’em pub” culture.
Hold’em pubs are a Korean staple of poker-themed bars, where players can often exchange money for chips. Many other locations simply permit players to bring their own chips inside to casually play while having drinks.
The venues are legal in South Korea if they only allow players to exchange coupons, rather than money. With gambling being illegal for locals in Korea, a venue which converts chips back into money is prohibited and considered a form of illegal gambling.
The authorities said many late night establishments indeed were breaking the law by allowing guests to gamble for real money. Additionally, they are widely accused of facilitating money laundering and flouting health, safety and sanitation regulations.
Hold’em pubs are increasingly popular destinations for Korean youngsters. Accordingly, various celebrities reportedly attend such establishments on a regular basis, further amplifying the culture.
Owing to this, the taskforce is exploring various measures to tackle the establishments.
These measures will begin with a nationwide fact-finding investigation that will conclude in September.
The law-enforcement crackdown will happen in parallel with the provision of guidance to businesses through local governments and associations.
There are also plans to increase penalties for those who operate hold’em pubs, as well as rewards for informants.
New punishments will include up to seven years in prison and a ₩70m (£43,000/€49,000/$55,000) fine. Currently, those found guilty of operating illegal gambling establishments face up to five years in prison and a ₩30m fine.
Meanwhile, a further legal amendment will allow a Gambling Industry Integration Supervisory Committee to monitor illegal gambling in such premises. Those who report it will receive compensation of up to ₩50m.
The government’s bounty review committee awarded ₩152m in compensation to informants of illegal gambling in Q2. A total of 1,249 cases were reported to the authorities, with 26 relating to physical premises and the remainder online.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is driving the proposed regulatory changes within the taskforce.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family plans to designate hold’em pubs as “harmful to youth” by December. Such a designation would aim to curb the promotion of such establishments to teenagers.