Legalizing Gambling in Jakarta…Money vs. Valuesc - Sunday 12th of June 2005

Attempts to legalize prostitution and gambling in Jakarta are causing heated debates, with pros raising the slogan of economic benefits while cons insist on preserving social and moral values in the capital city of the world's largest Muslim country.“We could even repay the country’s debts from gambling,? Adrian Mailite, chairman of the Association of Indonesian Entertainment Businesses (Aspehindo), told IOL Monday, May 30.According to Adrian, the earning solely from illegal gambling in Jakarta reaches up to 300 billion rupiah (US$33 million) a day. The government would gain about 15 trillion rupiah (US$1.6 billion) a year from gambling if the industry was legalized, compared with Jakarta administration’s income of 11.54 trillion rupiah in 2004."There are still hundreds of such illegal businesses there in Jakarta,? Mailite added.

The promising prospect of the industry also prompted Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso to adopt the concept of his senior predecessor Ali Sadikin to legalize gambling and prostitution.Sadikin, who was Jakarta governor from 1966 to 1977, legalized gambling in the capital city, which produced an injection of 20 billion rupiah a year for the municipality.The funds were utilized to build roads, health clinics and schools. Ali built a now-defunct prostitution complex called Kramat Tunggak in North Jakarta in 1970s, which then was closed by Sutiyoso four years ago. The area then was turned into the Jakarta Islamic Center.Moral Considerations Illegal gambling places prefer not to use names clearly showing their true colours.

As expected, the idea brings about serious concerns from social-religious organizations. Chief among them is Indonesia's biggest Muslim organization, the Youth Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which claims to have more than 30 million supporters across the country.NU Chairman, Ahmad Suaedy, disagrees with the rationale behind the legalization of the entertainment industry, citing the fact that entertainment business must be localized in certain areas that are properly managed.“Gambling and prostitution are better to be localized with the regard to the impact on the public.? Suaedy told IOL.“Just have a closer look at the story of Kramat Tunggak red light district.

What’s happened now, sex workers run as they wish on the streets and other public areas," Suaedy said.There are also the Muslim-based parties that strongly disagree with the proposal. These include Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), National Mandate Party (PAN) and United Development Party (PPP). PKS has the majority of seats in the regional parliament of Jakarta.Muhammad Gunawan, chairman of PKS faction in Jakarta’s parliament said the Muslim community as a whole and the majority of Muslim-based factions in the parliament see the idea to legalize prostitution and gambling businesses as totally inappropriate.He added the Jakarta government must focus more on moral aspects than merely on commercial benefits.“It’s not a matter of money. We can be trapped by pragmatism if we neglect values,? Muhammad said.TacticsThe idea is not old and opening it up again for discussions is likely to cause more than just verbal debates.In May 1998, riots over the issue of gambling and prostitution places across Jakarta left thousands of victims and caused the destruction of many "entertainment places".

Since then, owners of night clubs have been more careful in running their businesses in the town. Now, for security reasons, such places prefer not to use names clearly showing that their places are offering prostitution.As a case in point, more and more visitors still come to a popular hangout, a night club previously named Medika by the owner, in a corner of West Jakarta. For newcomers at the lobby, they will probably think the place is like a clinic or a health club. Going further inside, it may surprise the visitors.But such a strange situation is not for regular visitors of the night club. They are already familiar with the place and also the services on offer. Even without a label or a signboard hanging above the door in front of the gate, they know the place is really a night club offering prostitution and space for gambling, according to an IOL correspondent.Mission ImpossibleIn addition to commercial considerations, fighting gambling and prostitution may not be as simple as it seems, especially in Jakarta due to three aspects: culture, business and entertainment, Adrian said.

With legalizing the industry, the government could better control and calculate the risk rather than allowing gambling and prostitution to run illegally across the city.Legalizing means minimizing the presence of gambling places run by players from the lower social bracket and in turn give more chances for players from the middle and upper level of social status, Adrian said.But according to Suaedy, Sutiyoso must have strong arguments regarding the moral aspects to gain political support from the regional parliaments.Such a sensitive policy would also easily lead to moral hazards without a strong legal basis in favor of public interest.

The Jakarta government should also carry out campaigns to boost consumer awareness of the industry and the presence of sex workers along with the danger of their activities.Before being put into effect, Governor Sutiyoso is discussing the proposal with the Jakarta’s regional parliament but it doesn’t seem to be succeeding.“It’s still being discussed and we need more researches on this matter. We also need advice from religious figures to see this issue from many aspects,? u Laswanto, Jakarta’s governor spokesman, told IOL.According to Catur, the approval of such a proposal from higher level legislative bodies also means that the House of Representatives needs to make amendments in the law forbidding gambling in the country.Still Sutiyoso seems to be in for a loss of due political support from the regional parliaments if he goes ahead with the plan, because the seats are dominated by PKS, Muhammad said.

The plan to legalize gambling and prostitution also draws opposition from the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI). Besides the political constraints, the presence of such an entertainment industry is also culturally not feasible for the predominantly-Moslem country.“So, it’s totally impossible. We are in the forefront against the plan,? Muhammad said briefly showing his stance against the idea to legalize gambling.

www.islamonline.org

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