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In latest bid to stop people losing money, Indonesian government calls online gambling a scam

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JAKARTA – Some 2.7 million Indonesians gamble online regularly, recording roughly 327 trillion rupiah (S$27.6 billion) in fund circulation in 2023, with a worried government trying to eradicate the vice by calling it a scam.

In its fight against the promoters of such sites, the Ministry of Communications and Informatics (Kominfo) took down more than 800,000 gambling websites in the second half of 2023 – the same number as the gambling websites that were taken down in the previous five years.

But new gambling sites have popped up just as quickly with new names and web addresses. The government has been unable to block them as the computer servers of these sites are mostly located overseas, including in the Philippines and Cambodia, officials said. The fund circulation, according to the government, refers to the amount of money gamblers spent and lost as well as spent and won.

“Nobody could win by betting their money against a machine that is designed to always be in profit. We are doing public campaigns to convey this message,” communications and information minister Budi Arie Setiadi said in a text-message reply to The Straits Times on May 13.  

The Indonesian government is now seeking Interpol assistance and is keen to discuss with the authorities of its two Asean neighbours to help shut down the online sites.

Making matters worse, many gamblers are going into debt by taking loans with high interest rates from popular online lending platforms, known locally as pinjol, which typically approve loans within minutes. 

The government estimates that some 78 per cent of the 2.7 million gamblers, out of the country’s total population of 280 million, are young people, with many aged between 17 and 20 and from low-income families.

Indonesian law stipulates gambling is a criminal offence punishable by a jail term. Anyone implicated in online gambling faces a maximum of six years’ jail and a fine of up to one billion rupiah.

But the government wants to educate people against the vice, besides using legal means to stop or punish them.

Officials want the public to know that online gambling is like a scam, enticing people by using algorithms that let players win in the beginning. When they become addicted, the more they play, the more they lose.

But once they are sucked in, many people cannot bring themselves to stop until they run out of money and can no longer get a loan.

One such gambler was Mr Nofrianto, a 32-year-old resident in Lampung province in Sumatra, who said online gambling had cost him his house and two cars.  

“At first, I only wanted to try it out with 1.5 million rupiah and managed to win a total of 31 million rupiah. This was the start of me getting trapped,” Mr Nofrianto, who uses only one name, told Jakarta-based news portal Okezone.com in October 2023.

The father of two children, who works in an oil and gas company, continuously topped up his cash on a gambling website to try to recoup his losses. But he kept losing more money.  

In late April, Kominfo’s director-general for public information Usman Kasong said President Joko Widodo is committed to resolving this gambling problem, with various ministries and agencies roped in to combat the online menace that has reached an alarming level.  

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