SEOUL, Aug. 30 (Korea Bizwire) — On August 27, a four-year saga that had pitted local residents and a growing number of government officials against South Korea’s horse racing establishment drew to a close, as the mayor of Seoul, the president of the Korea Racing Authority (KRA) and various politicians and luminaries shook hands to commemorate the closing of the highly controversial, much maligned Yongsan off-track-betting facility (OTB).
The tension between the two sides began in September 2013, when the KRA initiated plans to move the facility from its former location next to Yongsan Station to an area where it would be ensconced in a residential neighborhood.
Objecting to a gambling establishment entering the vicinity of homes and schools (the facility is roughly 220 meters from a local girls’ only high school), on January 22, 2014, citizens organized a 24-hour protest in front of the planned OTB building.
The protest would last 1,311 days until August 24, when both the director of the Yongsan OTB facility and his counterpart in negotiations, the OTB eviction task committee, confirmed that the two sides had come to an accord on the removal of the business from its current premises.
The committee released a statement through a spokesperson who credited the local support as being a crucial factor in the negotiations. The spokesperson also thanked the government, saying that “the Euljiro Committee of the Democratic Party (the current Administration’s political party) has played a big role throughout, and the Blue House’s recent arbitration [regarding the issue] was decisive [at arriving at a conclusion]“.
Government involvement has been a consistent feature throughout the debate over the facility. Both the Seoul metropolitan city council and the Yongsan district council unanimously voted in opposition to the OTB facility’s move. However, as the KRA simply ignored their demands and opened the facility in 2015, its change of heart two years later is noteworthy, to say the least.
For the committee, it believes that the result is a case of right over wrong. “[The committee] desired very strongly to show children that ‘justice prevails’,” the spokesperson said.