Korean Pop Stars That Gamble

Typically a celebrity visit to a casino wouldn’t make headlines. However, some K-pop stars have found themselves in hot water for breaking Korea’s strict gambling laws. It’s no secret that Korean pop culture is taking the globe by storm. With their growing celebrity comes massive fan bases that obsessively follow everything they do, including their missteps.

Most countries are coming around to the prospect of legalized gambling and all the benefits it brings. Casinos create jobs and generate millions in taxes for communities all over the world. With the booming betting industry on the internet, people are now playing these games online from sites like Despite all of this, South Korea stands firm in its stringent laws.

South Koreans are permitted to gamble at one place in their country called Kangwon Land. Besides that single exception, betting on casino games is illegal for their citizens, even if they are in a different part of the world. So what would make these celebs put their reputations at stake? We may never know, but what we do know is the repercussions of their choices have caused controversy with their fans and have lasting effects on their careers.

Tony An


Once a singer for the popular 1990s boy group H.O.T., Tony An was investigated for gambling between 2009 and 2012. After admitting to wagering on illegal sports betting sites, he received a six-month jail sentence and one year of probation. His punishments extended beyond the legal system as broadcast networks banned his group’s music and appearances for two years.

Shin Jung-Hwan

Hwan is a comedian and was also a member of the music group Roo’Ra. He came under fire for gambling and unpaid debts in 2005.  In 2010, he was caught in the Philippines using another South Korean’s passport as collateral for betting money.

To avoid facing the legal repercussions, he checked himself into a hospital claiming to have dengue fever. That was later found to be a lie and did irreparable harm to his image. He eventually returned home to accept his charges and served an eight-month prison sentence.

Jung Jin-Woo

In 2007 Woo was caught illegally gambling and given a fine, but he didn’t stop there. After being investigated for spending a massive $3 million on sites in 2011, he asked his stepfather to take the fall for him. Due to his stepfather’s claim, he received another fine instead of jail time. However, in 2014 Woo was caught placing unlawful sports bets, resulting in a one-year prison term.

Lee Soo-Geun


Geun, a popular television personality and comedian, was found betting $370,000 on English Premier League Matches and other overseas football between 2008 and 2011. He was indicted and sentenced to six months in prison and one year of probation. He lost his contract with the automotive company Bullsone and was ordered to pay them 7 million won for damaging their reputation and business.

Yoo Soo-Young

Also known as Shoo, this Korean actress was a member of the group S.E.S. in the 1990s. Even though she is half Japanese, her dual citizenship didn’t protect her from charges for gambling outside the country.

She was charged with betting a total of $702,000 from 2016 to 2018. She also faced persecution from two lenders that sued her for not paying back six million won in borrowed money, but she was acquitted. Young received a six-month prison sentence with a two-year restricted arrest period.

Cha Tae-Hyun


Hyun is an actor/singer who starred in several box-office hits as well as multiple television shows. He worked with Jung Joon Young on the popular tv program 2 Days and 1 Night. Hyun and others were caught by police in 2019 for betting money on friendly games of golf in 2016. Although no prison time came from the incident, Hyun apologized and took a year-long hiatus from the public eye.

Kim Yong-Man

TV host and comedian, Kim Yong-Man, was charged with gambling approximately a billion won on sports betting sites between the years 2008 to 2011. He admitted to gambling as a hobby but became unable to control himself as time went on. In April of 2013, Man was sentenced to eight months in prison and two years of probation for his habit. He spent three years in self-reflection before eventually returning to television.

Kim Joon-Ho


Ho is a comedian and singer who also starred in the show 2 Days and 1 Night and became embroiled in the gambling scandal involving castmate Cha Tae Hyun. On April 11, 2019, he was called in for investigation alongside Hyun for betting on a few games of golf, but both men insisted the money was returned immediately after. Ho’s reputation had already taken a blow when he was caught gambling in 2009, so following this second wrongdoing, he removed himself from all tv shows and appearances. However, his hiatus was short-lived, as he returned to the air four months later.

Gambling Isn’t Going Anywhere

Despite the strict gambling laws in South Korea, it remains a popular pastime for everyone, from average citizens to high-profile public figures. Whether people line up to get into Kangwon Land to wager legally or place their bets in secrecy on illegal websites, casino games don’t seem to be going anywhere.

These celebrities’ consequences may seem extreme to an outsider for a country whose citizens have an affinity for betting. Although the rest of the world may take a softer approach, the backlash tends to be harsh from fans in Korea. Culturally they view public figures as role models and expect them to act as such. In the future, judgment may be kinder to K-pop stars, but they have a standard to uphold for now.