Murphy's Law: Serious Soldier Scams In South Korea

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July 7, 2008: For over a decade, the U.S. military has had slot machines on bases, as one of the many recreational activities available to the troops. Until recently, several thousand slot machines generated $100 million annually for local base Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) funds. This buys amenities for the troops, everything from swimming pools to gyms and live entertainment. But while the average slot machine spending on some bases was over $100 a month per soldier, it's long been known that about two percent of the troops are likely to become gambling addicts. The military even established a gambling rehab center in California (since closed), to deal with the problem cases. Of course, the troops with potential gambling addiction problems will eventually find other outlets, and the military expects the troops to develop, and exercise, discipline for things like that. But putting slots on base was considered unseemly by many politicians.

But the dirty little secret about base slots is that lots of locals, especially in countries that don't have legal slots, were getting to these machines, and spending lots of money. Troops can either bring in guests, or those running the base gambling locations don't check ID. So when American bases in South Korea were ordered to check ID on those entering facilities with slot machines, revenue declined by 50 percent. This new policy was in response to Congress threatening to remove all the slot machines. South Korea is a major source of revenue for slots ($79,000 a year from each of its 927 slot machines). The military slots pay out 95 percent of the money put into the machines, meaning that players put over $1.5 million into each of those South Korean slot machines last year. Half of that was apparently coming from South Koreans.

And that's where it gets even more interesting. Seems the troops, and South Koreans working on the base, were accepting fees from South Koreans to take them into the gambling facilities as "guests," or simply providing documents needed to get on the base. Some of the troops and South Korean base employees would also do a little loan sharking, loaning money to tapped out South Korean gamblers.

All this is nothing new or unique in South Korea. Ever since U.S. troops first entered South Korea after World War II, the goodies available on American bases created a lucrative black market, run by South Korean crooks and greedy American troops. Both were frequently caught, and for the military, this activity provided a large portion, often the majority, of courts martial in South Korea.

So while gambling addiction is a problem for some troops, there are many more ways to get into trouble in South Korea, and many of them pay much better.

 

 


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