South Korea orders Seoul casinos to close as COVID-19 infections rise

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South Korea has ordered Seoul-area casinos to close as the region tries to control a surge in COVID-19 infections.

On Sunday, South Korean officials announced the country had notched 271 additional COVID-19 infections, the first time in nearly a week that new infections had fallen below 300. But this minor victory wasn’t enough to lower the weekly average and thus the country is imposing tough new restrictions that are set to take effect at 12am on Tuesday (24).

The regions of Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon have been ordered to ‘Level 2’ of the country’s COVID-19 mitigation strategy, which prohibits all events at which over 100 people might gather. Bars, nightclubs and, yes, casinos will be ordered to close entirely for the next two weeks.

The news is a further blow to South Korea’s struggling foreigner-only casino operators, some of which learned last week that their maximum capacity would be lowered to 20% of normal as the impacted regions went from Level 1 to Level 1.5.

The affected areas include two Seven Luck-branded casinos operated by the state-run Grand Korea Leisure (GKL) and two casinos operated by the country’s largest private casino operator Paradise Co Ltd, including the Paradise City integrated resort near Incheon’s international airport. GKL said its casinos would remain shut until December 8, with an expected cost to the company of KRW5.1b (US$4.6m). 

The government insists the new measures are needed to ensure local hospitals aren’t overwhelmed with COVID cases. The government is also trying to ensure that the annual national college entrance exam – currently scheduled for December 3 and which expects the participation of nearly half-a-million students – won’t need to be rescheduled.

The Level 2 designation will also call a halt to local racing operations (horse, bicycle and boat) that are among the few legal avenues of gambling that local residents can participate. The only casino at which locals can gamble is Kangwon Land, located in a mountainous region some 200km north of Seoul.

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