South Korea's prime minister apologized yesterday for allowing video gambling arcades to spread in a country where gaming is mostly illegal.
The government has come under fire for its lax regulation of the gaming industry, amid allegations that a large video arcade chain has been breaking the law.
Last week, Prime Minister Han Myeong-sook ordered the closure of thousands of video game parlors suspected of illegal gambling and prosecutors began an investigation.
"I would like to offer my sincere apologies for the serious damage to the livelihood of low-income earners by the nationwide spread of speculative gaming," Han said before a Cabinet meeting yesterday.
She said the government might not have effectively managed its regulatory responsibility in granting licences to arcade operators.
Prosecutors said they are investigating video arcade operators featuring a game called Sea Story on suspicion it was an illegal video slot machine.
Prosecutors are also investigating whether arcade operators might have bribed public officials to approve licences.
Arcades featuring Sea Story, a video slot machine game with nautical themes, are suspected of trying to skirt South Korean laws by raising the payouts from their machines beyond legal limits, prosecutors said.
After several arcade operators allegedly altered payouts, the game grew in South Korea. Arcades featuring the game have mushroomed around the country since starting two years ago.
All a player has to do is insert cash and watch sharks, whales and other sea creatures spin and stop on the video screen.
Reports of the video game scandal have dominated South Korea's media coverage over the past two weeks, in part because of the size of the industry and the possibility of corruption.
"Who made this country into a republic of gambling?" the mainstream JoongAng Ilbo daily asked in an editorial last week.
Out of the country's 17 legal casinos, only one allows South Koreans to gamble. Video arcade games are allowed but must not pay out over a licenced limit.
Arcades can give out gift certificates that can be exchanged for merchandise for people who play video slot and poker machines.