South Korea casinos extend shutdown; Jeju Dream Tower gaming by March?

South Korea’s casinos have once again extended their latest pandemic shutdown, but this hasn’t deterred one operator from pursuing a new foreigner-only gambling permit on Jeju island.

This weekend, South Korean authorities extended the social distancing measures currently in place for Seoul (Level 2.5, the second-highest tier) and the rest of the country (Level 2) through January 17. The greater Seoul region has hosted the bulk of new COVID cases, which topped 1,020 on Sunday, a worrisome rise from the 657 reported Saturday.

Foreigner-only casino operator Grand Korea Leisure (GKL) subsequently announced that its three Seven Luck-branded casinos in Seoul and Busan – which were scheduled to reopen Monday morning – would now remain shut until January 18 at 9am.

GKL rival Paradise Co Ltd, which unlike GKL is a purely private operator, is keeping its Paradise Walkerhill casino in Seoul shuttered, but its Paradise City integrated resort in Incheon remains open, as does its Casino Jeju Grand on Jeju island.

There are eight small-scale casinos on Jeju, which prior to the pandemic was a major tourist draw for international tourists. Half of these casinos are currently shuttered and the Bank of Korea recently estimated that total Jeju casino revenue for 2020 will likely be less than one-third of the 2019 take (which was itself depressed by China discouraging its citizens from traveling to overseas casinos).

Between Beijing’s disapproval and the pandemic, total tourist visitation to Jeju in 2020 was down 87.6% from 2019. Jeju’s short-term outlook looks even more dire as South Korea just announced that international tourists will now have to present a negative COVID test before being allowed to set foot on Korean soil.

Perhaps out of desperation, Jeju’s regional government announced Sunday that some tourist facilities that had been ordered closed under the Level 2 restrictions would be permitted to reopen at 30% capacity.

In other positive news, Lotte Tour Development Co reportedly plans to apply for a permit to relocate its casino in the Lotte Hotel Jeju to the new Jeju Dream Tower integrated resort, which after years of staggered development finally had its grand opening last month. Local media reported that Lotte hopes to have its new casino up and running as early as March.

However, it remains to be seen whether there will be sufficient inbound tourism to justify the new casino, which will boast a gaming floor five times the size of its predecessor. The new casino will also boast 150 tables and 300 electronic gaming machines, up from five tables and 51 EGM in the current venue.

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