The South Korean government permits only limited forms of gambling and institutes a strict ban on the operation of casino sites. Citizens do not have access to local South Korean online casinos due to the law, but do have access to gambling websites headquartered and licensed elsewhere.
Online casino sites listed on this page hold licenses in other jurisdictions and are not beholden to South Korean restrictions on running gaming websites. As such, they freely accept South Korean players and are capable of handling Won deposits.
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South Korea takes the unique approach of distinguishing between citizens and foreigners in the application of its gambling laws. Citizens are restricted to a very limited set of gambling options such as betting on horse racing, boat racing, cycling, football, baseball and certain lottery games. State-authorized Sports Toto and Sports Proto enjoy monopoly status as the only legal sports betting providers in South Korea.
Citizens also have access to just one brick-and-mortar casino (Kangwon Land) which prohibits citizens from visiting more than 15 times in any single month. Foreigners and tourists, on the other hand, have access to 16 other casinos that are open only to tourists. The Korean government can therefore earn revenue through gambling but without many of the social ills it fears exposing its citizens to if gambling were fully legal in South Korea.
South Korea also has a unique law that makes it illegal for citizens to visit brick-and-mortar casinos while traveling in other countries. Article 246 of the Korean Criminal Code provides a fine of up to 5 million Won for anyone found gambling while overseas. If that person is deemed a “habitual overseas gambler,” he or she can face as much as three years in prison and a fine of up to 20 million Won.
It remains unclear if this code applies to players found visiting South Korean casino sites headquartered overseas. As far as we can tell, the authorities do not actually apply any of the local gambling laws to mere players who do nothing more than log in, gamble and then log out from the privacy of home. However, the government has threatened in the past to crack down on players who access unlicensed online casinos in South Korea.
We are not aware of any high profile cases of individual gamblers being targeted for merely accessing foreign gambling websites, but there is obviously some risk if we take authorities at their word.
Are South Korean Casino Sites Legal?
The South Korean government takes a harsh approach to clamping down on illegal online casinos located on South Korean territory. The law provides for both imprisonment and large fines for anyone found operating unlicensed gambling websites that target South Koreans.
Authorities routinely target underground online casinos in South Korea with violations of anti-gambling laws. In some cases, the government has even sought the extradition of South Korean nationals who run unlicensed gambling websites headquartered in other Asian countries.
In 2016, for example, Vietnam deported seven South Koreans who were found running an illegal gambling website based in Hanoi that targeted South Korean citizens. Later that same year, Thai news website Thairath reported that a gang of Koreans were caught in Thailand running an illegal gambling website that took wagers from South Korea. We can also point to similar stories out of Cambodia and the Philippines.
These news stories on others point to a growing problem of underground casino sites in Korea. The near complete prohibition of gambling here has only sparked demand, and some people are willing to take big risks to fulfill that demand. The government has even stated its intention to apply laws formerly reserved for the mafia to classify underground gambling rings as criminal enterprises. People caught running an underground casino serving Koreans can now face penalties as harsh as life in prison.
So, how do the online casinos recommended on this page manage to stay in business? The answer is a simple case of jurisdiction. The sites mentioned on this page are run from countries in which online gambling is legal, licensed and regulated. From their point of view, there is no reason to submit to the laws of a “foreign” nation (which would be South Korea in this case).
Furthermore, none of these sites are run by South Korean citizens, who would otherwise face extradition for violating South Korean law. Where people get in trouble is when South Korean citizens go overseas to set up illegal gambling websites.
The South Korean government has shown both the ability and willingness to order the extradition of citizens accused of gambling crimes. Visiting South Korean casino sites as a player is a low risk activity compared to actually running a gambling website as a business.
Wes Burns co-founded OnlineCasinoSites.com with a mission to help gamblers understand and navigate the regulated online casino market in all countries around the world. Wes is a respected gambling journalist, working in the industry since 2008.