More Singaporeans and Malaysians have been spending their weekends in Batam, Riau Islands, over the last few months after the reemergence of gambling-related recreation and gaming centers on the island.
Local authorities have denied that they have revived gambling in Batam, although records show that officials have recently issued 14 licenses for recreation and gaming facilities to revive tourism and to provide entertainment facilities for foreign investors on Batam.
“An increasing number of foreign tourists have been gradually reviving the island’s service industry such as hotels, restaurants and transportation, and indirectly generating more job opportunities on the island,” Yusfa Hendri, the head of the Batam municipal tourism office, said here on Monday.
Yusfa said that the office had received 30 applications for recreation and gaming center licenses and had issued 30 licenses.
The recreation and gaming centers, which provide gambling machines, have attracted Malaysians and Singaporeans, who are limited to gambling at home to the mountaintop casino in Tanah Genting, Malaysia, and to two recently opened casinos, the Marina Bay Sands and the Resorts World Sentosa in Singapore.
The centers in Batam have also attracted foreign investors to other nearby islands in Riau Islands, such as Bintan and Tanjungpinang.
The police shut down gaming centers in Batam in November 2011, following protests from local Muslim clerics.
Gambling in Riau Islands was put to an ostensible end in July 2005, when the National Police was headed by Gen. (ret.) Sutanto.
Yusfa denied that the recreation and gaming centers, which are located in malls and shopping centers, had become gambling sites.
The arcades, some of which feature state-of-the-art slot machines, are typically located in shopping malls and open before the majority of other shops and close late in the evening.
At one such gaming center, no children could be observed, only adults who appeared to be foreigners who inserted currency directly into the machines.
Critics say that the local police’s apparent tolerance of gambling in the gaming areas was connected to the alleged payment of bribes to government officials and law enforcement officers.
The gaming centers that operate slot machines in Batam are apparently intended to take advantage of tourists from Singapore, which is closer to Batam than Malaysia.
Yusfa said that the tourism office would continue its programs to build recreation and gaming centers to entice foreigners to visit the island and to generate more job opportunities for local residents.
He said that he hoped that the presence of more tourists would increase the revenue and tax receipts of the municipal administration.
The arcades contribute up to Rp 1 billion (US$107,000) to the municipality’s coffers every month, according to officials.
Meanwhile, the head of the Riau Islands chapter of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), Tengku Asyari Abbas, said the apparent official encouragement of gambling in Batam showed that hypocrisy had become a trait of the people and the government.
Asyari also said that the indecisive nature of the government in upholding the law had allowed gambling to thrive.
“The MUI has urged Batam Mayor Ahmad Dahlan to revoke the permits of the gaming arenas due to the negative rather than positive implications. The rules in Indonesia, especially religious rules, prohibit all forms of gambling activities,” Asyari said.
Tourist arrivals to Batam plummeted to under 1 million from a high of 1.5 million after former National Police chief Gen. Sutanto banned gambling in the region in 2005.
However, tourist numbers have slowly rebounded after gambling was reintroduced to Batam on a small scale in 2008, when the Batam municipality issued permits to 27 arcades to operate 800 machines. (Jakarta Post)