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Las Vegas-Style Casino In North Korea? Former Atlantic City Casino Boss Fuels Speculation

Economic Changes Could Lead To More Gambling In Rogue Nation


The historic meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could lead to investment opportunities in the rogue nation in the years to come.

As part of denuclearization discussions, Trump touted the economic opportunities for North Korea if it agrees to disarm its nukes and end its weapons program. Trump, a former Atlantic City casino developer, specifically touted tourism opportunities in a press conference after the summit. His knows the business as well as anything in his life.

“They have great beaches, you see that whenever they are exploding their cannons into the ocean, right?” Trump said during a press conference after the summit. “I said ‘boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind–’ I explained, I said ‘ya know instead of doing that, you could have the best hotels in the world right there.’ Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle.”

Prior to meeting with Trump, Kim Jong-un visited Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands casino-resort, and he also spoke highly of the Singaporean economy. Marina Bay, owned by Republican campaign mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, is said to account for roughly one percent of Singapore’s GDP.

Last week, just days before the summit, a South Korean newspaper in Seoul reported that a top aide to the North Korean leader “called” on Trump to “support” the nation’s tentative plan for a casino in the eastern port city of Wonsan. The North Koreans reportedly are eyeing it as an “international tourist destination.” Trump didn’t mention a casino specifically in his press conference.

Casino Pyongyang. Credit: Uri ToursThe country already has gambling facilities within its borders, according to a 2015 report from, but it is not known how many. The Chinese-backed “casinos” were described as “much smaller” than a typical gambling den, possessing a limited number of tables for gamblers to play on. It was reported that nearly all the gamblers come from China. North Koreans aren’t allowed in, according to the report. One of the casinos is located in the country’s capital city of Pyongyang, but the gambling parlor is located in the basement of a hotel and reportedly has just four gambling tables. In other words, a far cry from a casino-resort reportedly eyed for Wonsan.

The question as to whether a casino in North Korea could draw tourists from far and wide isn’t answerable at the moment, but it’s likely pretty clear right now that its citizens couldn’t support a Las Vegas-style casino on their own.

“My guess is that North Korea might lack the wealth to support a domestic-facing casino resort,” Dr. David Schwartz, the director of the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research, told Card Player. “It has had a casino in Pyongyang. I’m not sure what the target audience for a new casino resort would be.”

North Korea had a GDP per capita of about $500 in 2014.

Part of the allure of North Korea, according to media reports, is its relatively young population and potential for offering offshore companies reduced labor costs. “Investors have previously made note of North Korea’s large, disciplined and relatively cheap workforce, though some question the ability of the population to catch up with a modern economy, given how closed off the country is from much of the rest of the world,” said a report from CNBC.

The country is also said to be home to up to $6 trillion worth of untapped mineral reserves, which could spur economic development that would make a casino make more sense. North Korean infrastructure is dilapidated, but the location of the country makes it a prime location for road and railway development that would connect some of the largest economies in the region.

As for American visitors being interested in a trip to North Korea, there were talks prior to the summit of North Korea beginning to Americanize itself to some extent. Kim Jong-un reportedly is interested in letting a Western burger chain into Pyongyang.

The American Gaming Association, the U.S. commercial casino industry’s top lobbying group on Capitol Hill, said it didn’t have any comment on the potential for a North Korean casino-resort.

“If there’s anything happening on that front, we aren’t involved,” a spokesperson said.