Jeju’s Governor: Not So Fast

Chinese tourists love South Korea’s Jeju island—maybe too much, says the island’s governor, Won Hee-ryong (l.). Plans are to put the brakes on “reckless development,” and new casino projects could suffer.

New casino projects are in the cross hairs of the governor of South Korea’s Jeju island, a popular destination for Chinese tourists which he and other officials fear is being threatened by rampant development.

Won Hee-ryong, who took office in July, wants to impose a strict gaming regulation and taxation system and more stringent review of license applications to help improve transparency in the midst of a massive influx of proposed investments from foreign gaming and non-gaming companies.

“We have to first establish an effective regulation and taxation system before starting discussions on whether to open or repeal new casinos,” he said.

Growing land ownership by Chinese companies has given rise to concerns that a real estate investment visa system implemented in 2011 also needs to be fixed. Lawmaker Min Hong-chul, a member of the New Politics Alliance Democracy party, said Chinese investment in Jeju has grown sharply and currently totals 5.9 million square meters, or 43 percent of all land owned by foreigners.

Another NPAD lawmaker, Lee Mi-kyung, said that while government understands the benefits of foreign capital for the island, it is coming in too fast, and is resulting in “reckless development”.

Won has said he plans to raise property prices and the qualifications needed to secure a permanent resident visa while also creating new and stricter policies for land development projects and restricting investments related to hotels and private residences.

Casinos are among his top concerns. Eight of South Korea’s 16 foreigners-only casinos are located on the island, and there are more on the way, heralded by a plan by Genting Singapore and China property developer Landing International to develop a mixed-use megaresort with gaming to be constructed in phases at a total projected cost of US$2.2 billion.

Won is skeptical, and the groundbreaking has been delayed after he ordered a review of the project, which he contends has exceeded its planning permission.

He also intends to create a gaming regulator modeled after Singapore’s tough Casino Regulatory Authority.

“The casino industry needs restructuring to attract sound investment and ensure transparent operations to tackle illegal foreign capital outflow,” said NPAD legislator Lee Un-ju.