Citizens aren’t allowed to eat specific types of food, wear certain types of clothing, play music, access the Internet, or watch television. In short, normal citizens don’t have much freedom. It’s no surprise then that all forms of gambling are prohibited as well–online lottery included.
What is surprising, however, is that gambling does exist in the country. More surprising? It’s not rebellious citizens setting up illegal gambling dens in the hopes of sticking it to the man. The gambling scene in North Korea is actually government-sanctioned.
Confused yet? Let’s go back in time for a bit more context, shall we?
The Birth of Casinos in a Time of Rebuilding
In the ’90s, North Korea started to allow foreign investors from Hong Kong and Macau to build casinos in the hopes of rebuilding their economy after decades of mismanagement. Gambling is largely illegal in China, which is why investors like the Hong Kong-based Emperor Group thought it would be a stroke of genius to build an offshore casino.
Their ideal situation seemed simple enough: Chinese citizens who were itching to gamble would flock to North Korea to circumvent China’s gambling laws. For the most part, the logic seemed sound–but attracting people to the notoriously closed-off, the totalitarian country was a tougher sell than they had hoped. Complicating things even further, there were very few Chinese nationals who could afford to do so at the time.
Somehow, they made it work; and droves of Chinese tourists flocked to the two casinos available at the time. Corrupt Chinese officials also made a habit of spiriting government funds away to play in North Korea’s casinos. One official, in particular, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars playing in the Rajin-Sonbong casino, an event which promptly led to the closure of said casino–as well as the Chinese government’s imposition of restrictions to curb the flow of gambling tourism to the Hermit Kingdom.
Following the precedent set by what transpired in the ’90s, gambling in North Korea today is strictly for tourists only–which is just as well since ordinary citizens don’t have the resources to partake in gambling, to begin with. It’s also quite fitting that the only casino left operating in the country is located inside the basement of the Yanggakdo Hotel, a known tourist-only hotel in the heart of Yanggak island in Pyongyang.
Lottery games in North Korea date as far back as the 1950s, when the government introduced the “motherland defense lottery,” or Choguk-power-bokkwŏn. In 1991, they also launched the People’s Lottery, where 50% of the money could be awarded to winners.
Then, in 2002, Pyongyang launched its first-ever online lottery site,; in partnership with–interestingly enough–a South Korean entrepreneur by the name of Kim Beom-Hoon. Kim had convinced North Korea that the best way for the Hermit Kingdom to make waves in the international scene was to host a lottery that would allow people from all over the world to participate. Even better, where most online lotteries would only give winners 30%, the DPRKorealotto would award winners 100% of the pot.
Perhaps to assuage the fear people might have of North Korea’s involvement, Kim went on record to say that people the world over would be able to watch draws live online. Beyond that, the South Korean entrepreneur assured people of the legitimacy and sincerity he and his North Korean partners, going as far as to reveal that the credit card clearance system was based in Malaysia and that there was a registered capital of $3 billion. Kim and his partners also hoped to sell a variety of local North Korean goods via the website, as well as to further promote tourism online.
The DPRKorealotto came on the heels of the country expressing interest in opening ties with other countries and foreign companies–again, in a supposed bid to rebuild both its economy and its tarnished international image. The North Korean government also stood to earn a 10% commission from the joint venture. Today, the DPRKorealotto website, which was housed in a server in Pyongyang, is no more.
The current state of gambling in North Korea, much like the country itself, is a curious one. Though gambling is illegal, state-sponsored instances of it are not. Meanwhile, normal citizens aren’t allowed to gamble at the sole casino of the country. Lotteries, on the other hand, are a different story–with government-run games of chance being introduced to the public every now and then. Online lottery, meanwhile, is all but dead with the demise ofwebsite that had the potential to nudge North Korea out of the shadows and into the 21st century.