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Korea's Jeju Faces Casino Future Head On, Ears Wide Open by Muhammad Cohen

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Jeju is a beautiful island where some of the most interesting things in South Korea’s casino business are blossoming. With UNESCO World Natural Heritage sites, dozens of golf courses and one of the world’s busiest air routes linking it to Seoul, Jeju is also home to half of South Korea’s 16 foreigner-only casinos, but those eight establishments have barely scratched the surface of the island’s gaming potential. A conference this week will help clarify whether Jeju’s extraordinary possibilities, including one US$1 billion-plus integrated resort already open and another on track to launch next October, will be realized cooperatively or, instead, casinos will be part of a three – or more – sided tug of war between casino competitors and government where no one wins.

Jeju developed separately from the rest of the country geologically and culturally. A volcanic island 64 kilometers (40 miles) off the Korean peninsula’s southern coast, Jeju flows around Hallasan, Korea’s tallest mountain at 1,950 meters (6,400 feet), believed to have last erupted 5,000 years ago. Volcanic activity left a legacy of dramatic landscapes, and, with separation from the peninsula, unique biospheres. The elliptical island roughly three times the size of Singapore with a population similar to Macau at 650,000, has a distinct dialect and narrative, embodied in its female seafood divers and ubiquitous basalt stone grandfather carvings. Jeju’s climate is milder than the peninsula, creating a verdant haven for hiking and biking, a green getaway for urban dwellers that attracted 15 million visitors last year.

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