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Indonesia is a collection of over 17,000 islands, with a total population of over 252 million people, making it the fourth largest country in the world in terms of population. Jakarta alone, its capital and largest city, has a metropolitan population of over 30 million people, the second largest metropolitan area in the world. (1)
With all these people, there is a huge potential poker market, but as it turns out, Indonesia is a very conservative country, and in spite of the very good amount of tourist traffic they get, Indonesia continues to ban all forms of gambling.
So in spite of gambling really taking off in Asia lately, expected to jump from a $34 billion business to a massive $80 billion over the next few years, and in spite of Indonesia having a fairly liberal economy, the government here shows absolutely no interest in getting in on this gambling bonanza. (2)
With all of the countries looking to liberalize their view on online gambling, Indonesia is looking to go the other way, and have increased their efforts recently to try to stop online gambling and online poker in their country. It’s not that Indonesians don’t like to gamble, they certainly do, but the government is opposed to this, and this is primarily an Islamic country after all, with almost 9 out of 10 Indonesians being Muslim, and Islam isn‘t the most friendly religion to gambling to say the least, so that isn’t really surprising.
It may have been the case that Muslims didn’t do much gambling at one time, and they may do less than people of other religions, but these days people of all faiths gamble, and there is quite a bit of gambling going on here. Given the fact that there are no casinos or other official establishments to gamble at here, and people have to go off the grid to gamble, it’s just so much easier to do it online than to go to an underground establishment or bookie which is not only less convenient but risks arrest.
This isn’t the case with online gambling and online poker playing though, people do that in complete privacy, and the most the authorities do is look to block people from downloading online gambling and online poker software, and even that doesn’t really stop anyone who is willing to use a virtual private network to access websites, which gets around this.
Still though, the efforts of the Indonesian government to oppose gambling and make it illegal has certainly had an impact over the spread of poker here, and it’s quite a bit less popular here than in other countries where it plays a more prominent role in a country’s culture and also has a higher degree of exposure.
Sports betting is particularly popular here, as there are a lot of sports fans and therefore they are at least exposed to the potential of gambling more, and in fact the amount of money that Indonesians spend on sports betting has been the biggest factor in the government looking to redouble its efforts on making it more difficult for people to do such betting.
Playing Poker In Indonesia
There is some live poker that goes on here, in underground games, although these games tend to get raided by police frequently enough to make this perhaps not the wisest choice to get your poker fix. (3) There is said to be many such underground establishments here though if you are up for it. They do tend to be casino game oriented though, and not so much oriented toward poker, so you will have to look harder to find a poker game.
These establishments tend to be members only though, as due to the risks involved they don’t just take walk up traffic, and therefore you have to be at least somewhat in the know to gain entry. (4)
Poker is really still just emerging in Indonesia, although they do have one of the most successful professional poker players ever among their countrymen, John Juanda, although he did move from Indonesia to the United States, but his fame certainly didn’t hurt the growth of the popularity of the game in Indonesia, although it still is early in its development stages.
Since there is no legal gambling in Indonesia, there are no legal online poker sites or gambling sites, and the only online poker regulation they have here is to try to regulate people from not playing.
In spite of the talk, Indonesia hasn’t blocked access to any online poker sites at this time, and in fact poker is well down the list of their concern, as they are mainly focused on sports betting and casino games.
The only real challenge facing Indonesian poker players these days is depositing and withdrawing money to online poker sites, and there are some challenges here, but there are also some good options out there that Indonesian players have and continue to use in order to move money in and out of their favorite poker sites.
The Future of Poker in Indonesia
Poker may continue to grow in popularity in Indonesia, and there’s no good reason to think it won’t, but the government here is very unlikely to change its stance toward poker and toward gambling in general anytime soon.
This is not a matter of poker being given a special status as a game of skill as they do in some countries like India. Poker just gets lumped together with the other betting games here, and they are opposed to them all. There isn’t even a lottery in Indonesia, betting in general is considered wrong.
Rather than softening their stance over time, it’s more likely that the government will increase not decrease their efforts to slow down gambling and online poker. This could result in their making it more difficult to access online poker, with tactics like blacklisting sites, attempting to block internet access, and doing more to make financial transactions with them more difficult.
Perhaps the biggest threat here isn’t even from within, as there is a movement that has started, in the U.K. actually, which makes a requirement of not offering play to countries who are considered in the gray market for them to be given a license. Indonesia is more than grey market, it’s black market, there is no uncertainty at all whether gambling online is legal or not, and it is not.
We’ve seen some of this already and this may end up pushing countries like Indonesia toward the fringe, and therefore this tends to limit choice, but if there is a market for something, and the market is big enough, it gets satisfied anyway. So in a sense all of these less loved countries will likely always have places to play poker at, just as is the case in the United States when they put the run to just about all of the online poker rooms, but some poker rooms simply do not care about such things, and remain standing.
So things still look good for Indonesian online poker in spite of the official opposition to it. In time, who knows, maybe the appeal of all the tax revenue that they are missing on will one day trump their principles. In the mean time, the show goes on, as it tends to.