Korea's cabinet gives green light to casino cruise plan

Korean cruise vessels will be able to operate onboard casinos for foreign passengers when sailing overseas from as early as next year, a move which officials said will help revitalise the strained local marine tourism industry.

The Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries on Tuesday announced that an ordinance to support the local cruise tourism industry was approved by the Cabinet, and authorities will gear up to encourage more local players to renovate their ships and start operating the gambling facility. The ordinance will come into effect from Aug. 4, but the authorities assume more time is needed for domestic companies to start operations.

"We are currently seeking to support cruise operators to go for the onboard casinos. Several companies have already expressed their interest and we are expecting the first vessel to cruise as early as next year," ministry official Han Dong-soo told The Korea Herald.

According to the ordinance, the cruise operator should be graded as "investment appropriate" by credit-rating institutions. The size of the casino is limited to less than 2,600 square meters for 100,000 ton-vessels or larger, and less than 1,300 square meters for vessels smaller than 100,000 ton-capacity.

The casinos should be equipped with foreign currency exchange booth and an internal computing system accredited by the Tourism Ministry. They are banned from operating on the seas of South Korea, and only foreigners can be given access.

The ordinance is expected to pave the way for more than five local cruise operators to create 1 trillion won-economic effects including 8,000 new jobs by 2020.

However, market observers said it may have a smaller impact than expected, since Koreans will continue to be restricted from the casinos.

Oceans Minister Yoo Ki-june in May appealed for allowing Koreans to play games in order to secure profits for the operator but the Tourism Ministry deferred the decision fearing a public backlash against what may be perceived as gambling encouragement. Currently Kangwonland Resort casino in Jeongseon, Gangwon Province, is the only gaming room which allows Korean players, designated by a special law.

"The ministry is in no talks to push for admission of Koreans to casinos," Oceans ministry official Han said.

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