Online gambling increasing social problem
By Kim Tong-hyung
The country is struggling to deal with its rapidly-growing population of Internet gamblers, as authorities continue to be exposed for their ineptitude in detecting and suppressing the illegal activity.
According to the Games Rating Board, a unit of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the number of Web-based computer games cited for enabling gambling reached 113 during the first six months of the year.
This represented nearly a four-fold increase from the 27 during the same period last year, as gamblers continue to move from video-game arcades to online games provided on servers.
Internet gambling is illegal in Korea, a heavily-regulated gaming market where betting is restricted to racing, lotteries and a single casino available for locals in Gangwon Province, although there are several casinos operated for foreign nationals.
The games rating board has a ``strike-out’’ rule for online games exposed for supporting gambling, revoking the business licenses of companies after a third violation. The number of games canned during the January to June period reached 20, compared to none a year earlier.
The rise in Internet gambling is threatening to obscure the results of the nationwide clampdown on illegal gaming arcades and slot machine parlors between 2006 and 2007.
Adding to the headache of the authorities is that online games make it much harder for them to detect the conversion of virtual points into cash, unlike the bricks-and-mortar gaming outlets that usually provide vouchers or other physical items to gamers that are to be swapped later for real money.
In online games, gamblers use their points to buy virtual items and send them to the gaming operator who trades them for cash, a process that is hard to trace since everything happens online.
The country’s law bans virtual ``gaming money,’’ acquired by points in games based on betting, such as online poker, to be traded for cash. However, gamers are allowed to purchase items used for performances in other games, such as multiplayer role-playing games.
``Gambling based on personal computers is becoming harder to monitor and we need a larger number of personnel trained with sophisticated skills,’’ said an official from the Games Rating Board.
The problems related to Internet gaming are further reflections of a country that is struggling to respond as the obsessions with the virtual world transform into real-world problems.
In one of the planet’s most wired nations, addiction to online gaming is becoming a serious issue, whether it involves gambling or not. However, online games have also grown as a lucrative industry, which is about to become as distinctive a Korean export item as cars, semiconductors and kimchi, and the government appears caught between promoting them and restricting their use.
A slew of shocking cases involving game addiction ― including deaths by exhaustion, murder and child neglect ― have authorities vowing to clamp down on the amount of time gamers can spend playing online games.