Senin, 05/05/2008

BG Lee and Bang Ali
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BG Lee and Bang Ali

GAMBLING IS SAID to be the same age as prostitution, which is alleged to have been practiced from pre-historic times, or around 3000 BC when not a single religion came into existence. Quite many history books or legends explicitly disclose that gambling is as old as human civilization. In the story of Mahabarata, for instance, Pandawa lost his kingdom and was exiled to forest where he stayed for 13 years. This happened after his defeat at gambling against Kurawa. The Western world claims that gambling has existed from the Old Greek era when deities also took part in gambling as shown by the relief on ancient temple walls. Even, relief at Borobudur

Temple in Central Java clearly depicted gambling practices. In China, gambling was held as an integral part of its culture. In the history book on Old China, Confucius was said to prohibit people from gambling because it was against existing moral standards. However, Confucius also said that gambling was better than staying lazy or doing nothing.

This explains why gambling remains a paradox in the life of the people of China. In line with the development of human civilization, gambling has developed quite rapidly. Even, it can be said that gambling practices have now been found in all parts of the world and have penetrated religions and moral boundaries that countries are actually trying to protect. Just take Malaysia as an example. That country upholds in high esteem Islamic values that prohibit gambling.

But, gambling has been legalized in Malaysia as evidenced by the presence of a casino resort on Genting Island, which is operated by Genting Group. So the fact is that gambling is continuing to mushroom in so many parts of the world, and even in societies whose people are still divided into pro’s and con’s regarding gambling. But, what is interesting to discuss at this time is not the pro’s and con’s on gambling practices. Doing so would be wasting time and energy as gambling would continue to exist and thrive.

The interesting matter that needs attention is the fact that the gambling industry has extraordinary multiplier-effects, in economic terms. Example, the plan of opening two casino resorts in Singapore – Marina Bay Sands and Resort World at Sentosa. The former is being developed by Las Vegas Sands Corporation, a gambling operator from the United States. Meanwhile, the latter is being developed by Genting International PLC (Genting Group) from Malaysia. Prime Minister of the Republic of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, popularly called BG Lee, must have thoroughly thought of the presence of the gambling centers.

BG stands for Brigadier General, a military rank obtained when he was was only 32 years old. He is the youngest brigadier general in Singapore’s history. Should Lee think that the casino centers would not have any concrete economic impacts to his country, he would not have allowed their operation in the island state. Lee’s father and predecessor, Lee Kuan Yew, was against gambling, but he must have understood why his eldest son had decided to legalize such practices in the island state.

The development of the two casino centers in Singapore has absorbed hundred thousands of workers, from construction laborers up to top managers. Surely, after the projects are completed in 2009, the number of workers employed at the centers will increase significantly. Billions of US dollars are invested in the projects. The gambling centers, which will be the largest of their kind in South East Asia, also will have economic impacts to other areas in the region like Batam and Bintan in Indonesia.

The two islands have far in advance anticipated a drastic increase in the number of casino house workers to be employed at Singapore’s gambling resorts. They have begun building low-cost houses for the workers. With salaries of ordinary workers, very unlikely they will rent, let alone buy, apartment units in Singapore. Instead, they will choose to rent or buy houses in Batam or Bintan as it will take them only several minutes to get to Singapore from the Indonesian islands, using speed boats.

Meanwhile, Malaysia also is carrying out activities to anticipate the opening of Singapore’s casino centers. It is now building Iskandar Development Region so as to provide housing for workers from the gambling resorts. As IDR is linked to Singapore’s Orchard Road with a bridge, there would be no reason for casino workers in Singapore not to rent or buy houses in Iskandar Development Region. Another thing is noteworthy.

The Singapore government will rake in big amounts of money from the operation of Marina Bay Sands and Resort World at Sentosa. In the past, when Jakarta had Ali Sadikin as governor (1966-1977), gambling was legalized. Gambling served as a money-making machine for the development of Jakarta, then a city with total population of 4.4 million people. At that time, the Jakarta City government allocated from its annual budget only IDR66 million for the development of the capital city. The amount comprised IDR44 million subsidized by the central government and IDR22 million from the provincial government’s revenues.

When the Jakarta City government was trying hard to get additional development funds, Bang Ali, the popular name of the city governor, found that a number of illegal gambling houses were in operation in the area, which were backed by government officials and military people. ßGambling houses operators and their backers enjoyed revenues from gambling houses and they even did not pay taxes. Bang Ali then asked his staff to study the Jakarta City regulations on gambling.

It was found that a government regulation from the Dutch colonial times, which were still effective, stipulated that gambling was allowed only for ethnic Chinese because for the Chinese people gambling was meant to “throw away bad luck”. Armed with the regulation and Law No.11/1957 on regional tax, Bang Ali introduced a special program to improve gambling practices.

The results were so fantastic. He then succeeded to develop Jakarta. In 1977, the ending year of his term of office, Jakarta City’s budget reached IDR116 billion, of which 75 percent was from its own revenues. Under Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore will surely do much better in generating funds from the two casino resorts.

Seemingly, the legalization of gambling will make casinos strong ‘money machines’ for the island state in future years, considering that gambling is never affected by any crisis. When businesses are slowing, business people can go to gambling tables to ‘throw away bad luck”. (Deddy H. Pakpahan)