The North Korean government has lifted its ban on horse race betting, with experts pinning the latest move as the country’s way to make it through tough global sanctions.
According to North Korean news agency, KCNA, a number of races took place at the Mirim Riding Club on Sunday under sponsorship of the Korean Equestrian Association.
It is understood that race goers 12 or older were allowed to bet on jockeys through a lottery system at the end of the competition.
According to a report from Reuters on Monday, experts see the move as the latest method for the isolated country to ride out a series of international sanctions, which has placed bans on key exports such as coal, textiles and seafood.
“Kim has been pushing for vanity projects for a theme park, sky resort and the horse riding club for the sake of propping up the people’s well-being but their real purpose was to earn foreign currency,” said Na Jeong-won, head of the North Korea Industry-Economy Research Institute in Seoul to Reuters.
Lee Sang-keun, a researcher at the Institute of Unification Studies of Ewha Womans University in Seoul, said the leisure facilities targeted affluent 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,” he said.
“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.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that the country was seeking foreign investors for a cruise ship program, which it says will be permitted to operate a casino, according to Yonhap news.
The guideline said a foreign company or a consortium would be entitled to operate a tourist ship with an investment of US$10-20 million over the next 10 years.