South Korea Casinos Shut Again Possibly Until 2021

For the rest of the year, South Korea’s major casinos could be off-limits as the nation attempts to cope with an unprecedented increase in cases of COVID-19.

On Monday, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea issued a public call for further pandemic testing and better monitoring as the latest batch of tests showed a 4.2 percent positivity score, up dramatically from 1.2 percent as of this year. On Sunday, new cases reached 631, the highest number since the initial wave of the pandemic this spring.

More strict social distance limits will be needed to, with the capital Seoul and nearby areas subject to tight new rules until at least the end of this month. For casino operators Grand Korea Leisure (GKL) and Paradise Co Ltd, both of which have venues in Seoul, that means more financial pressure.

GKL announced on Monday that its two Seven Luck Casinos in Seoul, which had been forced to close at the end of November, would remain closed until at least December 29. GKL’s Busan casino, which shut down last week will also remain closed through December 29 at least.

GKL previously predicted that the closure would cost the company lost sales of about KRW5.5b (US$5m), an ugly glob of red ink that the company now pegs at KRW13.6b. Due to pandemic limitations, all three casinos were running at just 20 percent of normal capacity, resulting in November’s overall revenue dropping by more than half from October, although sales were down almost 88 percent from November 2019.

While GKL is state-owned, Paradise is a private operator that can account for its resistance to a complete shutdown. Guests were approved by their Paradise Casino Walkerhill location in Seoul as long as they can provide proof of a recent COVID-19 test that indicates a negative result, but it seems unlikely that the government will tolerate this half-measure for long.

Kangwon Land, the largest casino in South Korea and the only one where local residents can gamble, announced on Monday that it will close its doors by midnight on Tuesday (8) as the Level 2 pandemic mitigation strategy of the country now applies to the area about 200 km north of Seoul.

It marks the third closure of Kangwon Land this year which was only reopened to the public in October. The business said it had no idea when it will reopen and warned that it would lose about KRW1b on a regular basis. Last month, Kangwon Land said its net loss for the first nine months of 2020 stood at KRW242.5b compared to a KRW282b profit for the same duration last year.