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Jakarta may end gambling ban in city

Straits Times - October 11, 2001

Devi Asmarani, Jakarta – The local administration is considering a reversal of a 23-year-old ban on gambling to profit from the billions of rupiah that illegal gambling businesses reportedly rake in here and to curb the crimes that are linked to them.

Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso said that setting up a gambling centre would be an easier way to control gambling businesses, which have continued to thrive despite being outlawed. "Ideally there should be no gambling at all, but it's impossible," he said, adding he would hold discussions with Muslim clerics about the idea.

Muslim groups have staunchly resisted similar suggestions in the past because Islamic teachings forbid gambling. So while the proposal has already won support from some members of the provincial legislature, it could be shelved as a result of the strong opposition coming from Muslim groups.

Some radical religious groups have in the past year been going on rampages, vandalising and attacking night-time establishments serving alcohol, saying they are dens of sin. There could be similar repercussions if the government allows a gambling centre to operate legally. Said the head of the Jakarta Indigenous Betawi Group, Mr Abdul Syukur: "We do not need the illicit money that comes from gambling, like prostitution." To prevent a backlash from Muslim groups, the administration appears keen on making the Thousand Islands resort area just off the coast of Jakarta a designated gambling zone. The dozens of islands in the area are currently a favourite weekend getaway for families and divers from Jakarta.

"It is quite hard to reach from Jakarta, yet easy to control," Mr Sutiyoso said. He said the gambling centre might resemble the casino at Malaysia's Genting Highlands.

The Centre of Development Study said such a gambling centre would be able to lure ethnic Chinese and wealthy residents from Jakarta. "The gambling centre should be located far from the slum areas and would cater only to people who can afford it," said Mr Budhisantosa of the centre.

The gambling centre proposal first came from a research group at the University of Indonesia. The group said a legitimate gambling complex would boost the city's revenues and help it to control crimes and violence linked to illegal gambling businesses.

Under Governor Ali Sadikin in the 1970s, gambling was legal in certain designated areas in Jakarta and gambling operators were subjected to high taxes. The legendary governor used the revenues generated from the industry to develop the capital, building mosques, churches, schools and hospitals. But in 1978, after his tenure ended, gambling was outlawed across the nation with the issuance of a presidential decree. In practice, however, many gambling dens continue to operate, especially in Jakarta's Chinatown.

Mr Edy Waluyo, Speaker of the Jakarta legislature, said the council had urged the administration to demand a governmental review of the presidential decree. But councillor Ahmad Heriyawan of the Justice Party, one of the Islamic coalition parties, opposed the plan, and warned that there could be an adverse impact. "There is no guarantee that by making gambling legitimate at certain locations, the illegal gambling businesses will stop," he said.