Online gambling addiction on the rise among teens
A rising number of youths in Korea are getting addicted to online gambling.
Kim Gi-chan, a 15-year-old, started to play online gambling games after playing together with another student last year. He usually played baccarat.
“I sometimes earn 2 million won [$1,630] in just an hour and lose 3 million won in just 30 minutes,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo.
For money transactions, Kim used Kakao Bank, an internet bank that allows people to open a bank account without a face-to-face application.
The games teenagers play and gamble on are relatively simple, such as roulette and the so-called snail race, which involves bets on racing digital snails.
The simple games are a way for companies to recruit the youths.
“As so many gambling sites are being created, these businesses are actively recruiting the youth, seeing them as potential customers,” a police officer from the Gyeonggi Bukbu Police Agency’s cyber team said.
Online gambling is in fact becoming a major problem amongst students in Korea. A total of 7,063 students were treated at hospitals for gambling addictions between 2017 and 2021, according to the Korea Problem Gambling Agency (KCGP).
In a survey of 18,444 students, around 26 percent said they have played a gambling game on the internet in the last three months, and 4.8 percent were at risk for addiction, according to Kstat Research.
Many say the Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to the rapid spread of online gambling among teenagers and children.
“Students have had greater accessibility to gambling sites since they have been highly online during the Covid-19 pandemic,” said a 37-year-old counselor at Paichai High School in Gangdong District, eastern Seoul.
“There are some stats that say the number of counseling cases for youth gambling has declined, but this is because students are not physically coming to school.”
Social media is another contributing factor.
“Students spend more time on social media since the pandemic and these illegal gambling sites are spread through social media pages,” a police officer at Gwanak Police Precinct said.
A higher-than-expected number of students are exposed.
“Around 10 out of 30 students have experienced online gambling, according to what therapists currently working at schools say,” said a spokesperson from KCGP.
Non-face-to-face transactions between people has also contributed to the spread of online gambling.
Experts say as teenage students can easily open accounts through mobile financial services, including internet banks such as Kakao Bank and Toss, gambling online have become more tempting.
Teenagers now even display bank account numbers on their social media profiles.
“Students begin to illegally use the sports betting service Toto from the second year of middle school, as they can open Kakao Bank accounts from that age,” said a police officer from the Gyeonggi Bukbu Police Agency.
Students often learn about illegal gambling sites through other illegal sites such as Newtoki, an illegal webtoon site popular with students, which has banners advertising gambling sites.
“These gambling sites often use Illegal webtoons and illegal porn websites as means to advertise,” said a spokesperson from the police agency.
“It is a win-win strategy for these illegal businesses as they advertised each other’s businesses.”
The websites use a virtual private network (VPN) to evade the authorities. Operators keep the websites going by slightly changing the address number when authorities block the pre-existing websites.
The illegal webtoon website Newtoki was on its 183th website as of December last year.
The Korea Communications Standards Commissions has shut down or blocked over 40,000 websites over the past five years.
Experts raise concern that some students are not even aware that such games are gambling.
“Students who come for counseling are mostly at risk of having major financial issues or are about to be criminally punished,” said a spokesperson from the KCGP.
Some say parents need to acknowledge reality and be cautious.
“There are quite a few parents who learn of their children’s online gambling only after the authorities launch investigations into their children and are shocked,” said a school police officer from the Gwanak Police Precinct.
“Parents should suspect their children if they possess expensive fashion items such as shoes or bags that were not purchased by them.”
BY SHIN HYE-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]