The thrill of betting, losing, or winning money has attracted many a gambler world-wide. In some countries and cultures gambling is more popular than others. South Korea is one of those countries. For many South Koreans gambling isn’t just a hobby or way to pass the time on a lazy weekend, but rather a way of life. But why is gambling so popular in South Korea?

A recent research study reports that the average South Korean is three times more likely to suffer from gambling addiction than people of other nationalities. With some of the toughest laws against gambling in the world, where do South Koreans go for their gambling fix?

South Korea has 23 legal land-based casinos (see catering to tourist gamblers. It is strictly illegal for South Koreans to gamble at all but one of these casinos. The remotely located Kangwon Casino is the only one to open its doors to citizens. If a South Korean citizen is caught illegally gambling inside or even while abroad, they face fines of 20 million won and 3 years in prison. Geez, better hope you win a pile of money from gambling to pay the fine if you’re caught. It is safe to say most South Koreans don’t gamble at the casinos.

Most gambling is done online. South Korea is the most connected country in the world with 95% of its 50+ million people online with their smartphones. Online gambling sites and apps are extremely popular. The government has passed recent laws addressing online gambling and is actively trying to fight the use of gambling sites and apps, but with VPNs and other technical loopholes enforcing the laws is a major challenge for the country. Legal casino gambling and the state regulated lottery bring in over $18 billion in profits providing a significant amount of revenue for the government in the form of taxes. However, with gambling largely illegal for its citizens, where are all the profits from the illegal gambling of South Korean citizens going?

South Korean citizens represent a huge market of willing but restricted gamblers. Illegal casinos and “home games” are operating discreetly hidden from authorities throughout Seoul and other cities, but with the strict laws, most aren’t willing to take the risk. For the average South Korean online gambling offers a seemly safe way to gamble and escape the wrath of the authorities. Many of the big-name online gambling sites openly accept South Korean players and even offer their poker and casino games in Korean.

As they say, when there is a will there is a way. As long as gambling is so easily accessible online a country like South Korea can expect to be in for a long and frustrating battle restricting its citizens from engaging in one of their favorite pastimes.