COVID-19 Flattens South Korean Casino Industry

The casino industry in South Korea continues to struggle to get out of its COVID-19 restrictions, as its largest operator remains shuttered with no definite horizon reopening.

Last week, in its reopening timetable, the board of directors of Kangwon Land, the nation’s largest casino and the only one where local residents can play, announced the last delay of the property. The new anticipated reopening is Monday, July 13, though this Friday the board will re-evaluate the situation and no one really expects anything beyond kicking this COVID can go down the road a bit further.

The state-run Kangwon Land closed its doors in February as the rate of pandemic infection spiked across the nation. Tentative plans to reopen the property came and went in tandem with that rate rising and falling, reporting over 60 new cases for three straight days before falling below 50 on Monday.

South Korea’s inability to control its infection rate has prevented the government from easing international travel restrictions, which are playing havoc with other casino operators in the country, many of which rely on foreign passport holders for customers.

Stats released by the Korea Tourism Organization on Monday revealed that the number of foreign tourists who visited the country in May was just 6,111, compared with 1.23 m in the same month last year.

Paradise Co Ltd, which runs four foreign-only casinos, registered only KRW13.8b (US$ 11.5 m) gaming revenue in June, down 80.8 percent from the same month last year. Even more depressing, June’s total was 53.6 percent below the sum generated in May, the first full month of operation after the post-COVID reopening of Paradise.

Paradise revealed a series of cost-cutting emergency steps in the last week of June, including forcing one-fifth of senior management to either resign or take long-term, uncompensated leaves of absence. The company also announced the ‘temporary’ closure of a number of non-gaming amenities near Incheon at its flagship Paradise City resort.

Grand Korea Leisure, a paradise rival who operates three foreign-only casinos, has yet to release his June figures, but they are expected to be equally grim. With the exception of a miraculous turn of fortune, it seems increasingly likely that some minnows on the market will not survive the current situation.