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North Korean race-goers who once risked three years hard labor for gambling are now able to bet on local horse races, as the one-party state searches for new ways to generate hard currency in the wake of tough international sanctions.
In recent weeks, North Korea's access to foreign money has been significantly limited by a flurry of international sanctions over Pyongyang's missile and nuclear weapons programs.
The North's state-run KCNA news agency said Friday that a series of races were due to take place at the Mirim Horse Racing Club near Pyongyang on Saturday. The venue is reportedly one of Kim Jong Un's most prominent leisure developments.
"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 wellbeing, but their real purpose was to earn foreign currency," Na Jeong-won, head of the North Korea Industry-Economy Research Institute in Seoul, told Reuters on Monday.
Pictures by KCNA showed hundreds of spectators in attendance over the weekend while visitors aged 12 and over were allowed to bet on jockeys in a raffle-based system, Reuters reported, citing Korean Central Television.
The races featured mostly white-grey horses. In North Korea, white horses have traditionally been seen as a propaganda symbol closely linked to the ruling Kim family.
A spate of international sanctions against North Korea has seen bans placed on crucial exports for Pyongyang — including coal, seafood and textiles.
—Reuters contributed to this report.