Poker in Seoul, South Korea: A Review of the Paradise Casino, Walkerhill
On a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, I was able to play poker in each of the two casinos in Seoul that offer the game — the Seven Luck Casino and the Paradise Casino, Walkerhill, also called the Walkerhill Casino. After reviewing the poker room at the Seven Luck last week, today I’m sharing a review of the Walkerhill casino poker room for those traveling to Seoul.
Introducing the Paradise Casino, Walkerhill
The Paradise Casino, Walkerhill is part of the Sheraton Grande Hotel, a luxury facility with spa, health club, eight restaurants, a shopping mall, and 583 rooms spread over 17 floors. It’s located about five miles northeast of the heart of downtown atop Walkerhill, overlooking the mighty Han River in the eastern end of Seoul.
The building, visible from many miles around, is topped with glittering silver-colored frosting that glistens as you gaze up at it from the Gwangnaru subway station located at the bottom of the hill, about a mile away.
This casino’s luxurious shopping area (duty-free I was told) had all sorts of name-brand clothing, watches, bags, jewelry, and other accessories. As I walked around, buses arrived, dropping off well-heeled patrons. I don’t know if they all made their way to the casino, but I was encouraged to think that it was likely that there would be a regular flow of tourists into the gaming area.
Poker at the Walkerhill
On the Saturday afternoon that I visited the poker room in the Walkerhill, there were two tables of $1/$2 no-limit hold’em going and they started a third within 30 minutes of my arrival. By the way, with currency I am using a rough conversion here. The actual game is in Won, of course (this being Korea), and the game was structured 1,000/2,000 Won. With the Won’s recent slide, there is about 1,200 Won to the US dollar (making the game the more-cumbersome-to-report $0.83/$1.66).
For the $1/$2 game, you’ll find a $100 minimum and a $1,000 maximum buy-in. My table was the more deeply-stacked of the two that I sized up before taking a seat, with four of the players having between $700 and $1,000, a few having around $300, and a couple having stacks of roughly $100. The other table, and then the third table, had stacks averaging around $300.
I spent about four hours in the room both playing at my table and then, between hands, wandering over to the other two tables to get a sense of what their play was like. Generally speaking, the play was relatively sedate. Of course, my sample size was relatively small — just three tables on a Saturday afternoon — but even so, I witnessed no play that I would consider particularly wild or maniacal.
Players seemed mostly tight and timid, as they were at the Seven Luck Casino. Hands were generally not three-bet preflop. Large raises tended to be respected. Stack shoving seemed minimal to me. In short, it seemed a pretty relaxed place to play poker.
The rake was the same as it was at the other Seoul casino — 10% with a $15 maximum. Here, however, there was a $2 bad beat drop as well, making the full takeout as high as $17 on large pots. They also offered $1 an hour in comps.
Food is free for players at the Walkerhill, with the same arrangement I had seen at the Seven Luck. There’s a small restaurant with an automated menu on the outside. Players order electronically, are seated, and their orders are brought to them at no charge.
But there’s a restriction at the Walkerhill I did not notice at the other poker room, what I can best describe as a “Third Man Eating” rule which dictated that only two players could be away from the table eating at any one time. There is a waiting list kept, allowing players access to food only when the second player returns to play. There is no eating at the table, and non-alcoholic beverages are served free to seated players.
I did not sample the food (I was on the waiting-to-eat list, but never called). Players described it as “decent,” “pretty good,” and “better than average.” The fact that there were five or six names of players ahead of me on the list is a fair testament to the popularity of the food.
More from the Tables
As is the case in all casinos in Korea, access is forbidden to those without a foreign passport and those under 19 years of age. I met Germans, Russians, Chinese, Americans, and Brits during my visit to the Paradise, Walkerhill. The poker language at the table was English, though players also conversed in languages I did not understand.
In spite of the high rake (or maybe because of it), the environment for playing poker is otherwise pleasant. The cards are Kems. The playing felts are firm, the chairs are comfortable, the lighting is good, and the dealers are competent. Also, the room’s management is helpful, friendly, and multi-lingual.
Just like the Seven Luck Casino, the Walkerhill also offers the same helpful option when exchanging money into and out of Won. You’re permitted to change back into your native currency all of the Won that you initially purchased (at the same rate).
The casino has a full supply of other gambling games including roulette, blackjack, baccarat, three-card poker, Tai Sai, and slots. Though the three poker tables were full when I left early on a Saturday evening, the other gaming tables were largely ignored.
Getting to and from the Walkerhill
The Paradise Casino, Walkerhill is located at 177, Walkerhill-ro, Gwangjin-gu, Seoul, 143-708 South Korea. Games last all night and into the following morning, I was told. So if you go and stay late, be aware that the Seoul subway system, though extensive, safe, and extremely convenient, stops running between a little after midnight and stays shut down until about 6:00 a.m.
Though the poker room will transport you the casino Sunday through Monday, they will not give you a free ride back to your hotel. Cab rides to the heart of the city will run you about $40 (but no tipping in Korea!).
The casino runs a convenient shuttle bus to and from the subway to the casino. You can also walk the mile from the subway to the casino, though it’s all uphill, making it tough on a cold day or if you’re not in shape.
Overall, the Paradise Casino, Walkerhill is the nicer of the two poker rooms in Seoul, with more games, a luxurious hotel, and extensive shopping and other amenities available. There’s also a greater likelihood that you’ll be able actually to get a seat fairly quickly when you arrive.
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.