Thursday, July 18, 2024 | 02:26 WIB

Indonesia declares war on online gambling

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An uphill battle for the newly established Task Force against shadowy
networks and resilient operations exploiting the digital landscape

Jakarta, IO – Technological advancement has allowed many people to earn a living in ways never imagined before, like becoming a content creator, marketing affiliate, live streamer, vlogger, etc. However, it has also opened up new opportunities for gambling, previously carried out in dark and cloistered rooms; now people may place their bets at their fingertips, through the convenience of their mobile phones. As a form of entertainment, gambling has moved online. However, as in traditional real-life gambling, rampant online gambling has now ruined the lives of many Indonesians. 

The online gambling phenomenon started with sites featuring flashy advertisements that offered a variety of wagering games, allowing players to convert points earned or balance accumulated into cash. As of January 2 this year, data from the Communications and Information Ministry (Kominfo) lists 596,348 sites and IP addresses with online gambling content whose access had been denied by the authorities. According to the latest findings in the period from May-June, head of the Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim) Comr. Gen. Wahyu Widada revealed that three online gambling sites – 1XBET, W88, and Liga Ciputra – had a whopping turnover of Rp1.41 trillion. 

Beyond dedicated websites, online gambling content is also pervasive on social media platforms. According to report by Katadata, Kominfo has blocked 173,134 meta platforms, 29,257 file sharing services, 5,993 Google and YouTube channels, 367 accounts on X, 170 Telegram channels, 15 TikTok accounts, eight apps on App Store and one SnackVideo. This shows that online gambling content can be easily accessed on various platforms and viewed by internet users from all walks of life. 

In reality, gambling in Indonesia is not as glamorous as in Las Vegas casinos. Nevertheless, due to its widespread presence and several high-profile incidents, online gambling has sparked outrage and unease among members of the public. One case is that of Nofrianto, 32, who has to attend hypnotherapy sessions in Bandar Lampung, to overcome his gambling urges. Nofrianto was addicted to online gambling in 2019 and has lost his house and two cars to fund his addiction. If one is to believe his own account, he used to earn quite a high salary as an employee in a prominent oil and gas company. However, he gambled away most of his income that was supposed to be used to meet the needs of his family. As her started to run into financial problems, his relationship with his family became strained, leading to frequent conflicts. 

What Nofrianto experienced was not an isolated incident. According to the latest report from the Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Hadi Tjahjanto, there are 4 million online gamblers in Indonesia, with 1.64 million (40 percent) aged between 31-50, 34 percent aged over 50, 13 percent aged between 21- 30, and 11 percent (440,000) aged between 10-20. The ease with which they can access online gambling content and platforms explains the high figures. With active gamblers as young as 10, the scourge has become a matter of serious concern. 

online gambling task force
The National Police’s Criminal Investigation Department (Bareskrim), which is part of the Online Gambling Eradication Task Force, uncovered 318 cases of illegal online betting and arrested 464 suspects in the past three months, it reveals in a press conference at Bareskrim office, Jakarta, Friday (21/6). (Source: MEDIA HUB POLRI)

In general, the adverse impacts suffered by online gamblers are self-destructive addiction, disruption of individual and family financial stability, and damage to familial and social relationships, including rising trends of domestic violence and divorce. Criminal acts such as theft, fraud and even murder, committed to fuel one’s online gambling addiction, have also been on the rise. 

It is clear that compulsive gambling is a serious condition that can destroy lives and should be of great concern. The vice can lead to rising crime and security disturbances. On a broader level, it can also erode people’s purchasing power, affecting the economy as a whole. Children of gamblers denied proper education and health will also affect the quality of human resources in the future. The Government will find it harder to fulfill its mandate to tackle poverty and improve the welfare of the people. The consequences are far-reaching. Therefore, efforts to eradicate online gambling must begin in earnest. One of the initiatives is the establishment of the Online Gambling Eradication Task Force. 

Long road to eradicate online gambling 

Efforts to eradicate gambling date as far back as the Dutch colonial period, through the issuance of Staatsblad 230/1912 which was later amended into Staatsblad 526/1935. Gambling was also regulated in the old Penal Code (Wetboek van Strafrecht) in Articles 303 and 303 bis (a Latin adverb connoting a second article with the same number to indicate another version of the text) which stipulated that the criminal act of gambling applied not only in playing, but also offering and participating in the activity for that purpose. 

Over the course of time, Law 7/1974 (Gambling Control Law) was passed together with Government Regulation 9/1981 concerning the implementation of gambling control. The fundamental difference in this law is the severity of punishment which includes threats of imprisonment and fines, which later became Article 303 of the Penal Code. However, these provisions only apply to traditional gambling, not the online variety. Therefore, Law 11/2008 concerning Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE Law) has been passed, to prohibit the distribution, transmission and/or provision of electronic information and/or documents containing gambling-related content. 

However, recently changes have been made to the Penal Code and the ITE Law. In the current Penal Code (passed in 2023), gambling is regulated in articles 426 and 427, which threatens offenders with a maximum prison term of nine years, or a maximum fine in category VI. The new ITE Law (passed in 2024) empowers the authorities to order electronic system operators to terminate access and/ or content moderation of information and/or electronic documents containing gambling content. 

The enforcement of online gambling law is comprised of two measures, both preventive and repressive (Gymnastiar, et al., 2024). Preventive measures include the enactment of regulations, awareness-raising campaigns at schools and communities, police raids on internet cafes, and cyber-patrols to block websites and platforms offering or promoting online gambling (Saputra & Pranoto, 2023). This campaign is being carried out in collaboration between Kominfo, the National Police (Polri), and relevant ministries/ agencies. 

Meanwhile, repressive efforts take the form of law enforcement actions, including investigation, prosecution, detention and imposition of sanctions. However, according to Raharjo, et al (2024), online gambling remains pervasive, not only because of the ease of access but also the government’s lack of firm stance and deterrent measures against online gambling operators. Dini Ramdania (2018) points out in her research that despite the threat of up to 10 years of imprisonment for gamblers, the law is rarely enforced, because gambling is often treated as a minor offense or infraction that does not warrant jail time. 

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