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October 20, 2014

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Former Nevada tourism official reflects on his stint at N. Korea casino

Robert E. Goodman, seen in a photo from his campaign website when he ran for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2010.

Robert E. Goodman, seen in a photo from his campaign website when he ran for lieutenant governor of Nevada in 2010.

For all the mystery engulfing North Korea, Robert E. Goodman knows what that isolated country and tourist-laden Las Vegas have in common.

They both lust for Chinese gamblers.

Goodman has worked both sides of the fence, at one point based in Hong Kong and organizing Las Vegas junkets for Chinese gamblers, and later being hired to recruit Chinese gamblers to a new casino in a port city on North Korea’s northeast tip.

That unlikely assignment lasted about four years and, Goodman says, paid “really well.”

The trajectory that put Goodman in the city of Rason — where coal from nearby China was shipped across the Sea of Japan to Shanghai — has its roots in Nevada.

Goodman, born in Idaho, was a casino marketing executive in Carson City when he was tapped by then-Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, to serve as the state’s first economic development director in the 1970s.

After some time, he was hired to head the North Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and, after that, moved to Hong Kong, where he worked in the marketing department of American Airlines.

With his growing familiarity with international travel and Asian customers, Goodman began organizing gambling junkets on behalf of Las Vegas casinos.

By then he had gotten the eye of other gambling companies, and was hired by a Hong Kong developer, the Emperor Group, which was building a luxury boutique hotel and casino in Rason. It was an extraordinary commercial effort by the North Korean government to bring cash-rich Chinese into the country.

From about 1998 to early 2002, Goodman spent two to three weeks at a time in one of the most isolated parts of the world, marketing the 100-room hotel and its opulent casino.

North Koreans could work in kitchens and restaurants but were not allowed to either gamble as customers or deal cards as employees, he said. Malaysians were brought in for those jobs.

Goodman said he had a resident work permit and was allowed free rein of the country — but spent most of the time near the hotel-casino where he worked.

Twice at large events he saw the “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, but he never met him.

Goodman, now 77 and living in California, said his memory of North Korea is dominated by memories of hard-working, uncomplaining laborers and the amazing patience shown among residents waiting in long lines for buses without shoving. “It was disciplined, like a disciplined cult,” he said.

Today, Goodman holds a soft spot for North Korea, saying the United States should treat the reclusive country with greater respect.

The remark comes despite his last encounter with North Koreans.

It occurred after then-President George W. Bush declared North Korea part of the “axis of evil” in his 2002 State of the Union speech.

The next time that Goodman went to cross the Chinese border into North Korea, the guard he had become friendly with — thanks in part to the food and candy that Goodman shared with him — turned a cold shoulder. He said Americans could no longer enter the country.

Efforts should be made, Goodman said, to restore relations between the two countries.

“But it seems like we’re negotiating with a chip on our shoulder, and you can’t negotiate like that,” he said.

As for the Emperor resort: It closed for a time when China restricted travel to North Korea — in part because the Chinese government discovered that some of its bureaucrats were gambling away government money at the North Korean casino. The Emperor later reopened, and most recently closed its doors again following the death of Kim Jong-il.

In 2005, Asia Times reported that about 50,000 Chinese visited the Emperor annually. It quoted the casino’s Chinese-hosted website boasting that “our smiling hospitable hostesses will keep your spirit thriving into the wee hours” and inviting guests to “immerse yourself in our heated indoor swimming pool to sweep off any weariness induced by your hectic schedule.”

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  1. It is far less expensive to use diplomatic means dealing with a country, rather than to engage into an expensive war laden with great bloodshed and loss economically.

    As Mr.Goodman stressed, "Efforts should be made, Goodman said, to restore relations between the two countries.

    "But it seems like we're negotiating with a chip on our shoulder, and you can't negotiate like that," he said.

    Certainly, we should negotiate having reasonable terms. President Bush has created such a mess, where to begin. It would serve us well NOT to elect anyone who aligns themselves to the former President Bush and his ilk. Let's learn from the lessons of the past so we aren't doomed to repeat the same damn mistakes!

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  2. i don't trust disciplined cults as far as i can throw them. i'll leave foreign policy to those who love to do it

  3. Take a 'casino junket' to North Korea!...

    would be akin to trying to market "fun in the sun in Fargo!" in the dead of winter.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-...

    http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/vice-guid...

  4. I thought this was a great story about Mr. Goodman. And he sounds like he has led a fascinating few years for a guy who came from Idaho to here and back etc and along the way had the unlikely job of shepherding casino junkets into The Dear Leader's RNK? How cool is that?

    And

    Yeah, yeah so Bush didn't fix the north's situation. I noticed that nothing was said, by the poster, about the lack of, actual, useful, diplomatic progress with the north, before Bush arrived or after Bush left.

    The whole peninsula (it was once called the Hermit Kingdom)has been secretive and was screwed up in various ways since way before 1880 by the combined efforts of the Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, and then the Russians. The situation can only be seen to be "better" if we count the results of WW-II and the brutal war of self defense the south fought against the north in the 50s, with the participation of the US and UN allied forces.

    The only meaningful change in the former Hermit Kingdom's isolation came from the opening up of the south's populace and industry after the Korean War. The north continues it's traditional historic isolation and xenophobia which is SOS DD since the 1400s or so.

    Oh yes, childish insults and name calling show one has run out of ideas and they get old fast.

  5. Any one who sticks up for GWB foreign policy must be in a trance. He will go down as the worst president on foreign policy. He made us hated around the world and he had no clue how to be diplomatic in world politics. A gunslinger attitude works in Texas but not around the world. As the old saying goes if you are going to cross the swamp don't piss off the alligators first. Bush sure pissed off many foreign leaders. Second Mr. Goodman has been there and knows how to evaluate the north Koreans. Keeping our USA heads in the sand will not get us anywhere. It's time to do away with the 1950's attitude and become more of a global community member.

  6. BChap Sorry you disagree but I did not put you in ignore mode. We all have the right to our opinion and yours is just as important as mine. Please take a moment and step back and see if your actions are anything like the closed minded people who just lump everyone in a class when they do not like something. The article was about how we view other cultures and how we react to them. I did not say I agree that N.Korea is correct but we must deal with them in another way than bullets and war. Please read this it is the last part of the article. "Oh yes, childish insults and name calling show one has run out of ideas and they get old fast".

  7. <... his memory of North Korea is dominated by memories of hard-working, uncomplaining laborers and the amazing patience shown among residents waiting in long lines for buses without shoving. "It was disciplined, like a disciplined cult," he said>

    Ahh...these people really have no choice but to work hard and not complain or else...

    Didn't know N. Korea had a casino.

  8. <...and the brutal war of self defense the south fought against the north in the 50s, with the participation of the US and UN allied forces>>

    Malous aka Dennis Hill:

    That was the Korean War in case it slipped your mind. We are now losing the veterans from this War.

  9. I spent several years in the ROK dating from 1969 - 1985. The U.S. increased their presence on the peninsula in 1969 as a result of the Pueblo incident. Active duty Air Force personnel were deployed to relieve ANG airmen so they could return to the states. Another provocation a few years later, was when a work detail of U.S. personnel and Korean workers went to trim a tree that was obstructing sight lines on the DMZ. The North Koreans attacked the work party, and death resulted. These are only two of the numerous provocations that the North Koreans instigate almost daily. Kim Il Sung was still running the show in North Korea. After his death, Kim Jong Il succeeded him, and now Kim Jong Il's son. North Korea has been a strident communist nation since the end of WWII. There has never been a treaty signed by the South Korean government and North Korea. A state of armistice has been in effect since 1953. There is a division of US Army personnel assigned to South Korea. There were two divisions assigned there until Jimmy Carter redeployed one. There is a large Air Force presence in South Korea as well. These folks aren't there for the hell of it. They are there to back our South Korean allies and serve as a deterrent to North Korean invasion of the south. The north is loaded with gulags filled with people courageous (or dumb) enough to oppose the Kim dynasty. "Hard working uncomplaining laborers"? What choice do they have? Chronic food shortages have left the majority of the population vastly undernourished, but the North's army has plenty. The Kim dynasty was aptly described by US Rep. Peter King as an "organized crime family", which is precisely what they are. Threats and provocation are the North's stock in trade. They are the enemy of the ROK and the U.S. Take a look at a night view of the Korean peninsula: the South awash in the light of progress and independence. The North? a tragic sea of darkness.

  10. Sorry Munch, now that you bring it up, the American Administration never declared war. My pop was there way up north with Tenth Corp. Someone else I knew just died he was navy corpsman (Marine). Another Marine I knew when I was a kid was buried a while back.

    I grew up hearing their stories (when they did not know I was listening). They all said they were in a VERY COLD VERY NASTY war but their government told them they were part of a "UN police action" not a war.

    What most US administrations and diplomats believe or think they know about the true evil of the RNK would not be a very big book.

  11. Barry I am not sticking up for Bush. I just view him and all the other Presidents realistically. None of them have done anything effective with or about the Hermit Kingdom's successor the RNK except for Truman and then Eisenhower who (barely) kept it from annihilating the south and putting it into their evil orbit.

  12. Bradley I was not talking about you. I was talking about another person here. See the first post here on this article above