Date: 21.06.2024

by Adam Dworak

Jokowi Rules Out Subsidizing Struggling Gamblers

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) has definitively announced that the government will not provide social assistance to individuals harmed by online gambling. During a recent address following an irrigation inspection, Jokowi emphasized that no aid would be forthcoming for those involved in such activities. “No aid,” the president stated firmly, underscoring his conviction.

Controversial Proposal Sparks Debate

Earlier, Muhadjir Effendy, Coordinating Minister for Human Development and Culture, had suggested that social aid might be extended to the affected family members of gamblers, excluding the gamblers themselves. Effendy argued that online gamblers should be treated as criminals, not beneficiaries of social assistance. However, Jokowi’s latest statement indicates a complete withdrawal of any proposed aid to these families.

This decision comes amid a rising tide of gambling-related harm in Indonesia, which has even led to several violent incidents, including murders. For context, online gambling is illegal in Indonesia, and participation is considered a criminal offense.

Opposition from FITRA and Economic Experts

The Indonesian Forum for Budget Transparency (FITRA) was one of the first organizations to oppose the idea of providing assistance to gamblers’ families, arguing that this would indirectly subsidize the gamblers themselves. Gurnadi Ridwan, a researcher at FITRA, expressed concerns that such aid could exacerbate the issue and suggested creating more job opportunities for Indonesians instead.

Nailul Huda, Director of Digital Economy at the Center of Economic and Law Studies (Celios), also criticized the proposal. Huda emphasized that online gamblers knowingly break the law and, therefore, do not deserve social assistance. He further noted that online gambling causes significant state losses, negatively impacting the Indonesian economy.

Diverging Views on Government Responsibility

Despite widespread criticism, not everyone agrees with the government’s stance. Sociologist Asep Suryana highlighted the psychological nature of gambling addiction, arguing that gamblers are not always able to foresee the consequences of their actions. Suryana believes that the state has a responsibility to intervene and provide aid to the families of struggling gamblers, ensuring they can live decent lives.

In recent months, Indonesian authorities have recorded several gruesome deaths believed to be linked to online gambling. These incidents include a woman burning her husband alive after he spent his salary on gambling and several gambling-related suicides. Such events have intensified the debate over how to address the social harm caused by online gambling.

Government Measures Against Online Gambling

Indonesia has been ramping up its efforts to combat online gambling through increasingly strict measures. Both organizers and players face severe penalties, including up to 10 years in prison and fines of up to $1,500. Software providers involved in online gambling operations risk up to 6 years in prison and fines of up to $60,000.

In May, Indonesia established a multi-agency task force to collaborate with Interpol in curbing online gambling activities. This task force is part of a broader strategy to enforce the country’s stringent gambling laws and mitigate the associated social harms.