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“No windows, no clocks, no mirrors”Casino owner reveals the secrets behind making you feel at ease - parting with your cash
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승인 2013.04.08  11:31:48
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Fortunes in chips regularly change hands at casinos, but tricks of the trade encourage punters to have one more go. Photo courtesy Ramada Casino

We were led into a back room. The workers and punters gazed at our passing through tense hands of blackjack. The invite had come as a surprise and the questions were requested in advance. He was to be referred to as the “The General” and personal issues were to be avoided.

The General’s request for anonymity - as a casino owner - only confirmed the liminal hinterland in which gambling is placed in Korea.

Ill-fame has an allure about it, an allure that is intense, even when you know the games it plays.

Casinos, psychologist Kati St. Clair told the BBC, make you feel: “intimate, enclosed, euphoric...womb-like;” a protective mother, willing to forgive you your misdeeds.

As you are led in, the clink clink of the machines and the flash flash of the neon entice you, while the smooth felt of the blackjack tables muffle the soft falling of the chips. If you are going to lose money, you may as well do it in style.

The world over, casinos have an air of the ne’er do well about them, but in Korea that air is thicker. Articles 246 and 247 of The Criminal Act prohibit gambling, although exemptions are made for public welfare and tourism - this is where the casinos slot in.

Despite the draconian laws, Koreans love a gamble. Historian Robert Neff quotes an early traveller to Joseon Korea, who remarked: “Koreans learn the delights and pains of gambling almost from their mother’s milk.”

Of course, there are few peoples who don’t like a flutter.

Casinos are big business on Jeju. Once catering to Japanese visitors - the economic wave having swung back to type, west to east - punters are now overwhelmingly from the Middle Kingdom.

Casinos don’t just sit back, however, waiting for punters to fill the coffers. Planning has gone into every detail of the gaming floor.

“This is the “sammu” culture of the casino - no windows, no clocks and no mirrors,” said the General, sharing the casino-owners' take on the three absences of Jeju - beggars, thieves and gates.

The atmosphere is crafted to make punters enjoy parting with their cash - what Roger Thomas, casino designer, calls “an adult playground,” making gamblers “stay longer, feel better, and bet more.”

Glamor and riches are among the promises - and cliches - that casinos tantalize punters with. Photo courtesy Ramada Casino

The General is clear where his market lies: “The key word for this century is: China.”

The tricks are the same the world over - make punters comfortable, put them in a trance-like state, play music, surround them with familiarity, even pump in pheromones and oxygen to encourage risk-taking behavior, according to some reports.

The General, while not employing all these tricks, uses his background - as a psychology major - to reach into the minds of punters, teasing out the risk-taker inside.

He knows his main market is China and he rolls out the red carpet for them...

“ encourage aggressiveness.”.

This may be par for the course for casinos the world over, but the General had more.

“There are some features especially for the Chinese mind. The Chinese like gold, so many of our fixtures are gold-colored. Casinos in the East also use good-luck charms, such as swords above the table and auspicious symbols around the room. This makes them feel lucky,” he said. “Shamanism is also used in gaming rooms.”

The Chinese market seems inexhaustible, but Jeju has competitors: Macau, Singapore, Malaysia, and closer to home, the soon-to-be super city at Incheon. But the General is ahead of the game; he knows a casino that rests on its laurels falls behind.

“Some people say the gambling industry will slow down here, but I’m in the leisure and pleasure business. It will continue growing by taking advantage of Jeju’s attractions, which Incheon can never match,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to directly compete with them, we have more to offer.”

He takes us around his casino, inviting us to the VIP room, where he has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars won and lost. He begins to talk about his plans to keep those chips falling where he wants them.

To ensure this, the General is taking to the seas, in his yacht; things were getting very 007.

By combining the gambling and yachting markets, in addition to the world-class outdoor attractions of Jeju terra firma, he is planning to keep the Chinese coming for years yet.

“I am here to provide pleasure to my customers so I must keep up with tourist trends. Tourists want variety and that is what I provide. They gamble at night, but by day they go horseriding, golfing, trekking.”

In a parting shot, unfazed by the competition, the General clearly held some truths to be self-evident.

“Jeju is not Incheon.”

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