Indonesia is no stranger to gambling; and like prostitution and corruption, it has held a grip on the country and its people for centuries. Historically, Indonesian gambling mainly involved arranging fights between any two animals (and even insects) and betting on the outcome. This desire to bet against opponents, in whatever circumstances meant that gambling revolved around simple activities such as boat racing, kite flying – or even guessing the exact number of nuts held in the hands of other people. Despite this, Indonesia has had an uneasy relationship with gambling, which has been repeatedly fluctuated in terms of legality as the4 growth of online gambling is on the rise with companies like M88 Indonesia and Sbobet
It wasn’t until the Chinese arrived around 700 years ago, that more recognisable and organised types of gambling, such as card and coin games, were introduced to the Indonesian people. It wasn’t until Islam and its Islamic laws prohibiting gambling rose to prominence in the 14th century, that gambling in Indonesia was first made illegal. However, with the arrival of the Dutch a century later, Indonesia became once again, a place for legalised gambling; despite a small blip when the British temporarily took over the islands.
Once Indonesia gained independence, the newly established government allowed gambling regulation to be controlled at local level, albeit without emphatically legalising gambling activities. It wasn’t until 1967 that Governor Ali Sadikin formally permitted gambling within his district with the provisos that the industry was stringently controlled to ensure that profits went straight to the local government and that the populous were somewhat restricted in order to reduce gambling- induced poverty. During his governorship, three casinos were awarded licences in Jakarta, and Sadikin set up two lotteries to fund sporting activities, which eventually spread to other provinces and regions within Indonesia.
Once again, by 1973, Islamic leaders began applying political pressure to ban gambling activities, resulting in the revocation of all gambling permit – although the casinos in Jakarta remained open under the premise that they were only accessible to foreign nationals until further legislation was enacted to blanket ban all forms of gambling within Indonesia.
In 1985, Porkas (a soccer pools) was established in order to fund improvements in sports; but was abolished less than three years later due to mounting pressure from the Muslim community and concerns over impoverished locals squandering all their income. Next came a re-launch of Sadikin’s lotteries, this time under the guise of the SDSB (Social fund Donation Prizes), but once again this was banned by 1993 due to Islamic intervention.
These days, only horse racing remains as a mild form of legalised gambling, although the vast majority of betting takes place through illegal channels; whilst casinos continue to be run underground with a reported 44 gambling locations in the capital, Jakarta, alone. It is clear that Indonesians refuse to give up their love of gambling, but with Islam on the rise – it’s hard to know who will win this tug of war.