Gambling does not seem to be a thing in North Korea. Nor will you read much about this in either the North Korean or South Korean news. Yet there is one form of state-sponsored gambling that does take place. This is the story of the North Korea lottery…

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Everybody enjoys a good old family reunion. Meeting the folks. Having good old knees up. Family barbecue in the summer. Reminiscing about good times had, and good times yet to come. No matter how far from your loved ones, or they from you, there is always one day in the year when you can come together and be a family. Unless it is the Korean war and the 38th parallel that separates your family!

Is North and South Korea still at war?

The Korean War ended on July 27, 1953. The peninsular has seen an uneasy peace ever since. Peace is probably not even the right word. North and South Korea only ever signed an armistice agreeing to temporarily cease hostilities. This means that technically they are still at war. The two countries still ‘face off’ across the demilitarized zone and skirmishes involving exchanges of fire are fairly frequent.

When the North Koreans retreated across the border in the summer of ’53 they took 120,000 South Koreans with them. Over the intervening years, this has created huge problems for families desperate to see their loved ones. For many years any kind of reunion was out of the question. However, in recent years, selected families have been able to meet up with their relatives in the North.

How to play the North Korea lottery

North Korean authorities choose these lucky families by utilizing a lottery system. Family names rather than numbers are drawn in this particular lottery. These families though are playing for the opportunity of a tearful reunion with their Southern kinfolk. For most families, the North Korea lottery offers only a slim hope. A mere 100 North Koreans will get the chance to experience a mini reunification. North Korean authorities have always given preference to those who have been loyal to the state. A kind of North Korean ranking system.

The idea of reuniting families began in South Korea in the ’80s. North Korea has hijacked the process over the years for political purposes. South Korea proposes an initiative only for it to be cancelled by the North at the last minute. This has the effect of causing even more distress among Koreans separated by the conflict.

Are North & South Korea on the path to reunification?

The inhumane stance of the North Koreans first softened in 2015. South Koreans were allowed for the first time to visit the demilitarized zone to see family and friends. It has now been over 60 years since official hostilities ceased between the two countries. During this time many family members died. Many more are at an age whereby this reunion will almost certainly be their last.

north korea lottery

So, is the North Korea lottery the first tentative step to reunification? Certainly, The North Koreans have a habit of making concessions only to withdraw them again soon after. It remains to be seen whether the North Korea lottery will be allowed to continue. A lottery that for some is the most valuable lottery in the world. It may be that the divisions caused by the Korean War will continue for many years to come. For Koreans though the significance of winning the lottery in North Korea is far greater than any amount of money.

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