North Korea Is So Desperate for Cash, It’s Allowing 12-Year-Olds to Gamble

October 16, 2017 Updated: October 16, 2017    

International sanctions have limited North Korea’s access to foreign funding so much, that the regime is now allowing its citizens—as young as 12 years old—to place bets on horse races.

Several horse races took place at a race track near Pyongyang on Sunday, where North Koreans were allowed to bet on the race.

Previously, anyone caught gambling in the reclusive communist state could face three years of hard labor.

The move comes after a new round of sanctions, initiated by the Trump administration, were imposed on North Korea.

Last month China announced that its Central Bank instructed other Chinese banks to stop providing financing to the North. It also ordered North Korean businesses operating in China to close down, giving them a 120-day deadline.

A new round of U.N. Security Council sanctions imposed on the regime last month prohibit the export of North Korean textile products, severely impacting one of the North’s main export products. China has also banned imports of coal, iron, and lead from North Korea.

The U.S. Treasury Department has placed additional sanctions on businesses and financial institutions doing business with the reclusive state.

All this has led the North Korean regime scrambling for sources of hard currency.

In a country impoverished under decades of communist rule, the North Korean leadership is now looking to other methods to fill its state coffers using money from a small but wealthy class of North Koreans.

“You may have ridiculed Kim Jong Un for constructing lavish facilities while struggling to feed the people, but those things are to make foreign currency, not from foreigners but from the well-offs inside North Korea because you have to pay in U.S. dollars or Chinese renminbi there,” Lee Sang-keun, a researcher at the Institute of Unification Studies of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told Reuters.

“Many North Koreans make lots of money from the market, dine at hamburger restaurants and go shopping, all of which help fatten regime coffers. That’s part of the reason why the regime still has some financial latitude despite international sanctions.”

North Korea has already been operating casinos for foreigners in Pyongyang and Rason, where it jointly runs a special economic zone with China.

Last March, the government sent out investment proposals for new casinos in Namyang, near the border of China, and the Mount Kumgang region, home to a scenic tourist resort just north of the border with South Korea. The United Nations’ latest round of sanctions, however, bans any further joint ventures with North Korean companies.

The Mirim riding club has an indoor training facility, seven outdoor riding courses, a pavilion, restaurants, and a sauna, as well as 120 horses including 67 famous Orlov Trotters from Russia, according to the website of Uri Tours, a U.S.-based agency specialized in guided trips through North Korea.

The entrance fee is $35, which covers one-hour of horse riding with an instructor, riding gear, and sauna.

The fee could be lower for North Koreans, reportedly at around $10—still a hefty sum for many impoverished locals.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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