I recently had the opportunity to travel to Seoul, South Korea and play in the two casinos in the city that offer poker — the Seven Luck Casino and the Paradise Casino, Walkerhill, also known as the Walkerhill Casino. For poker players who might travel to Seoul, I am today going to share some thoughts about the Seven Luck Casino, then next week I’ll offer a review of the Walkerhill Casino.
Introducing the Seven Luck Casino
The Seven Luck Casino is housed in an impressive building, with a multi-story sign announcing the casino in huge neon lights. The gambling area, on the other hand, is relatively modest, with just two rooms of gaming tables and machines, a small restaurant, a lounge, and a half-dozen cashiers ready to sell and redeem player’s cheques, change foreign currency, and offer credit.
Visitors must present their passport to friendly guards in the lobby. Gamblers then proceed upstairs to the mixed-use floor that includes dozens of blackjack tables, other table games, and some slots and electronic gaming machines.
At the Seven Luck Casino they have the standard casino games of roulette (American wheel), baccarat, blackjack, Caribbean Stud, three-card poker, as well as an Asian dice game called “Tai Sai” that resembles the American casino game of Sic Bo. Limits on the table games range from about $10 to $5,000. There are also slot machines and, of course, Texas hold’em poker.
Poker at the Seven Luck
There are two poker tables at the Seven Luck, but I only saw one in use during my two visits to the room. At the entrance is a casino staff person standing at a podium who signs players up for the game. There is a hand-written board listing the games, with an occasionally updated waiting list.
The casino personnel will tell you they have (and there are lists for) four different levels of no-limit hold’em games: $1/$2, $2/$5, $5/$10, and $10/$20. (I am writing the stakes in USD, but the unit of currency in Korea is the Won, with a rough conversion rate of 1,000 Won to the dollar.) But the truth is that $2/$5 no-limit hold’em is the only game they regularly have. The range of buy-ins for this game is the broadest I have ever seen for a capped buy-in game, going from $100 to $10,000.
The game runs seven days a week from some time after 5:00 p.m. until it breaks, usually around 5:00 a.m. If you decide to play, I suggest you arrive at or call the room before 5:00 p.m. to get on the sign-up list. I arrived at 3:30 p.m. and there were already four names on it. The tables seat only nine players, and I found that players did not vacate their seats quickly (if at all). So if you don’t get one of the original seats, you might have a long wait to get in a game.
Players get free food from the small restaurant located about 50 meters from the poker table. There is an automated ordering system, where players punch in their meal selections on an electronic display board in front of the restaurant. They then are seated and have their meals brought to them. The prices listed on the menu are waived for active players. I did not sample the food, but it was the general consensus around the table that it was pretty good but not great. Non-alcoholic beverages are served at the table free of charge.
By law, Korean casinos may not admit Korean citizens. Accordingly, the poker game I twice visited was populated by Americans, Europeans, Chinese, and Japanese citizens, some of whom were of Korean descent. From what I observed, I’d say the level of play was relatively tight and passive — this was during the early evening hours of 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. and the early morning hours of 3:00 to 5:30 a.m. Of course there was variation. One player came in, bet insanely for the five hands he was in, and then left the game broke. But for the most part, what I witnessed as an observer and experienced as a player was a primarily sedate affair.
Players started with stacks that ranged from about $300 for the shortest-stacked players to nearly $5,000 for the deepest stacks. The average buy-in for the game I played in was roughly $700-$800. For the most part, the game was played “in English” insofar as all of the betting action was announced by the dealer in English. The only non-English I heard at the table was that spoken by some of the players. Though they spoke English to me, they often spoke some Asian tongue to each other. (I have no idea if there was any rule governing what languages could or could not be spoken at the table.)
The Seven Luck rakes 10% up to $15, plus $1 for the bad beat jackpot. They also offer roughly $1 an hour in comps.
I should share a quick observation about changing currency. The exchange rate offered by the Seven Luck is about 5-10% worse than what is offered by banks or other reasonable currency exchanges in Seoul. This rate was even a little worse than the awful one offered by hotels. But here’s the good news — when you go back to the window after your playing session, to reverse the exchange and turn your Won back into your native currency, you get the same rate you were charged to purchase the Won.
That turns out to be a significant benefit, saving you between 10-20% from the alternative of going to a bank, getting a reasonable exchange, playing poker with it, but then having to go back to the bank, and having to pay the exchange fee again to change your money back. Of course, since you can only do this up to the amount you initially purchased (and requiring a receipt of the transaction), you can’t do this for your winnings. But those you can spend on your vacation, of course, adding to the quality of your trip!
Getting to the Seven Luck
The Seven Luck Casino is located at 58 Teheran-ro 87-gil, Gangnam-gu in Seoul. This Seven Luck should not to be confused with the casino with the same name located at the Millenium Hilton in downtown Seoul which does not have poker. The one with the poker room is at the eastern end of the glitzy and modern part of the city, known as Gangnam, located south of the Han River. It was developed to showcase the city when the Olympics came to Seoul in 1988.
If you’re not close enough to walk, a most convenient way to get to the Seven Luck is by taking the extremely safe, clean, efficient, inexpensive, frequent, and well-signed-in-English subway. The nearest stop to the casino is the Samseong Station on Line 2, only about half a block from Seven Luck. Even if you are not staying near a Line 2 stop, the subway system is fully integrated and easy to understand, making any stop on the extensive line convenient for a ride to this casino. When you get off the subway, head for exit 5 or 6 — especially if it’s cold. They are nearest to the entrance of the casino.
In sum, from what I saw during my three or so hours of play and two hours of observation, the strong $2/$5 player who makes money at the game in his or her home casino would be better than the average player in this game at the Seven Luck Casino. But even with a nice edge on the opposition, he or she might not be sufficiently better to beat the game with its stiff rake.
That said, if your primary purpose for playing poker in Seoul is amusement, not profit, then the poker room at the Seven Luck Casino is a very pleasant and convenient place to play.
Ashley Adams has been playing poker for 50 years and writing about it since 2000. He is the author of hundreds of articles and two books, Winning 7-Card Stud (Kensington 2003) and Winning No-Limit Hold’em (Lighthouse 2012). He is also the host of poker radio show House of Cards. See www.houseofcardsradio.com for broadcast times, stations, and podcasts.