In an effort to collect foreign currency from some of its wealthier citizens, the government of North Korea has reportedly begun allowing well-off residents to wager on the outcome of horse races being held at a new riding facility located near Pyongyang.
According to a report from the Reuters news service, the Mirim Horse Riding Club held an inaugural horseracing meet on Sunday with race-goers over the age of twelve permitted to wager on jockeys via a raffle-type system using foreign currencies such as United States dollars and Chinese renminbi.
The news service explained that North Koreans once risked up to three years in prison for gambling but the new horseracing policy was initiated by the regime of leader Kim Jong-Un as a series of international sanctions tied to the Asian nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons begin to bite.
Citing North Korea’s state-owned Korean Central Television and Korean Central News Agency, Reuters reported that hundreds of spectators visited the first-ever horseracing event at the Mirim Horse Riding Club to watch races that involved mostly grey-white horses, which have long been used as a propaganda symbol by the ruling Kim family.
North Korea reportedly already has foreigner-only casinos in Pyongyang as well as in a special economic zone it runs with China near the northern city of Rason. The Mirim Horse Riding Club is a former military training center that was unveiled in 2013 complete with seven outdoor riding courses alongside a pavilion, restaurants and a sauna.
“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,” Na Jeong-Won from the North Korea Industry-Economy Research Institute in Seoul, South Korea, reportedly told Reuters.
The news service reported that the Mirim Horse Riding Club moreover features an indoor training facility as well as a stable of approximately 120 horses that foreign tourists can ride for up to one hour after paying an entrance fee of around $35. Reuters speculated that this charge could be as low as $10 for North Korean citizens although this would still put such experiences beyond the reach of most average workers.
“There seems to be growing demand for such leisure activities among North Koreans as the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening,” Na reportedly told Reuters.