The Bintan regency administration has asked the government for an immediate ruling on legalizing gambling in the Bintan Exclusive Tourism Resort (KWTE).
The local administration and legislature said current law made legalized gambling a real possibility.
Djoko Zakaria, head of the KWTE ordinance special committee, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday gambling in public was forbidden under the Criminal Code, unless a permit had been issued by the relevant authorities.
"The legal system offers a chance for legalized gambling, provided a permit for it has been issued by the government," said Djoko, who is also vice deputy speaker of the Bintan legislature.
"However, we feel the government lacks decisiveness in enforcing the existing legal system. If the plan to set up a casino in Bintan is illegal, then the law should be revised accordingly," he said.
The draft provincial ordinance on the KWTE is aimed at easing the way for Malaysian developer Landmarks Bhd., which is planning to invest US$3.1 billion in the resort area, he said.
A point in the draft ordinance that incorporates electronic and manual gaming has raised public controversy.
"Some 13,000 local residents would be employed if the casino in Bintan was operational. The Home Ministry is currently handling the issue, but it's still not settled," said Djoko.
He said foreign parties were involved in lobbying against gambling in the province.
He said Indonesia was taking a backward stance, and pointed to Abu Dhabi as an example of an Arab state that had successfully implemented legalized gambling. Moreover, he said the tourist zone would be off-limits to Indonesian Muslims.
"The pressure from foreign parties are intended to prevent Indonesia benefiting from the huge amounts of gambling money circulating in Southeast Asia," said Djoko.
The regency administration submitted the draft provincial ordinance to the local legislature in September last year. It has yet to be approved by the government.
"This won't be gambling that's open to the public and can thus become a negative influence," said Djoko.
Bintan Regent Anshar Ahmad said public opinion was divided over the plan.
"From dialogues with the public through Radio Republic of Indonesia in Tanjung Pinang, many residents are in favor of the plan. It only depends on the government now. The Bintan legislature is still waiting for a positive signal from them," said Anshar.
PT Bintan Resort Cakrawala (BRC) vice president Brig. Gen. (ret.) Chin Chow Yoon said Landmarks Bhd., the biggest casino company in Asia, would continue its plan to build hotels and resorts in Lagoi even if the government did not approve the plan to build a casino there.
"We will still invest in Bintan Resort without a casino. However, our investments may likely be smaller," said Chin.
He said BRC, as the sole operator of the 23,000 hectare resort area, had asked other investors to develop the area as well to increase the chances of getting the permit.
"Landmarks Bhd. expects the casino complex to be safe and legitimate and not subject to illegal levies and extortion from corrupt officials," said PT BRC spokeswoman Nia Firtica.
A number of religious leaders in Riau Islands have urged the government to reconsider issuing a gambling permit in the province because it would set a precedent for other provinces and eventually lead to legalized gambling throughout the country.
"We are against the proposed casino. The government should be consistent in its prohibition of gambling, especially since President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono clamped down on gambling in Riau Islands earlier," said Achmad Umar, an official at the Bintan office of the Indonesian Ulema Council.