October 30, 2023
JAKARTA – Finding herself stuck in unemployment, 23-year-old Anindya resorted to an online gambling website her friends were talking about.
“I was personally just playing around last year,” the Jakarta-based private sector employee spoke to The Jakarta Post on Oct. 18.
Both Anindya and her friends are only a small demographic of the millions of Indonesians who play online gambling, an issue that the government has been trying to solve in recent years.
Gambling is illegal in Indonesia, be it online or offline.
Players and organizers can face up to 10 years in prison and a Rp 25 million fine as stipulated in Article 303 of the Criminal Code (KUHP). Its online distributors, on the other hand, can face six years in prison and a fine of Rp 1 billion, according to the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law.
But despite the government’s continued effort to curb online gambling sites, players think the task may be next to impossible given the sites’ existence and accessibility in every pop-up ad.
Efforts to curb online gambling sites have been underway since 2018, yet the activity has only grown bigger in size, to the point that its terms, from “slot” to “depo”, recently entered the daily vocabulary.
Data from the Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK) this year showed that over 2.7 million Indonesians are online gamblers, and they produced over Rp 200 trillion in transactions.
“Me and my friends would top up [the deposit] only around Rp 25,000, so it didn’t hurt our wallets as much,” Anindya said.
Anindya would back away after winning a small surplus, gaining around Rp 700,000 after months of playing. It is the ease of acquiring money that enticed her for a while – a quick financial fix.
But Anindya eventually quit in 2022 after seeing the damage it had on her friends.
“A friend of mine was knee-deep in debt because of this online slot machine, it’s scary,” she said, adding that she was lucky enough to have some self-restraint, unlike most players.
Meanwhile, 24-year-old college student and part-time farmer Fakhri (who opted to use a pseudonym) believes online gambling can be alluring to lower and middle-income earners due to its affordability. Its minimum deposit is as cheap as Rp 10,000.
“Instead of letting some Rp 20,000 change sit in the bank, which I couldn’t draw as cash anyway, I could put it in the slot,” Fakhri told The Jakarta Post on Oct. 19.
After diving into online gambling in 2022, the Bandung resident in West Java found that, at times, he would hit the jackpot just from those small deposits.
“I’ve won Rp 12 million in a year,” he said. His highest profit in a single day was Rp 6 million, and he never spent over Rp 100,000.
But Fakhri and his friends eventually fell victim to the slot as he lost “an insane sum”, the most he would let out.
“It’s really easy to be reeled in because the sites can be found everywhere. Look for an illegal streaming site, for example, and most of the ads are about online gambling,” he said, adding that he has tried playing on four different sites simultaneously.
Fakhri has also seen people at warnet (internet cafes) on Jl. Sudirman in Bandung, playing the slot machine openly for hours.
Another aspect that he thought makes online gambling more accessible now is the easy payment: players can pay through online bank transfers, e-wallets, or even phone credits.
“That’s why you see more high school students playing it now, it’s all within a phone’s reach,” he said.
More than blocking needed?
This year alone, the government has blocked over 400,000 online gambling sites and social media accounts promoting the game. However, some experts think those steps are still not enough.
“Online gambling operators don’t sit still when their sites are blocked by the Communications and Information Ministry. They’ve easily made dozens of new sites, sometimes they even only need to change their websites’ domain and IP address to get it up and running again,” Pratama Persadha, chairman of the Communication and Information System Security Research Center (CISSReC), told the Post on Oct. 20.
Not even the ministry’s Negative Content Web Crawling Machine (AIS), which functions to identify online negative content like hoaxes since 2018, could detect new website addresses, Pratama said.
Independent hackers are now also involved in this scheme, as they would try to hack a website to sell to online gambling operators. This created a new financial motivation and has led to various websites being hacked for online gambling sites. One recent example was the official YouTube account of the House of Representatives, which was hacked to show a livestream play of the slot machine.
Fakhri also suggested that the government put more effort into blocking frozen bank accounts since his acquaintances, who were once online gambling operators, shared that online gambling admins use frozen accounts to remain untraceable.
Another alternative is to cooperate with social media platforms to filter out posts about online gambling, though harder to implement since not all countries legally ban gambling. The Communications and Information Ministry has recently asked the social media company Meta to help “clean up” its platforms from online gambling promotions.
“It might take time, but if implemented well, the filter would significantly decrease online gambling’s exposure to internet users,” Pratama said.
Pratama admitted the government’s effort in blocking these sites has hindered online gambling’s circulation a bit, but they still need help from internet users themselves.
“People can inform the ministry when they find certain online gambling sites or ads that are not blocked yet. Maybe they can conduct a bug bounty program to reward the complainants with phone credits or merchandise, so people can be incentivized to do it,” he opined.
But to ask for such a thing from the general public is a tall order, Anindya said.
“We’re still seeing a group of celebrities and [game] streamers being endorsed to promote these online gambling sites. With that, people can still easily be persuaded,” she said.