High above Djakarta's newest department store, the 13th floor may not be lucky for some tourists but it's certainly lucky for the Indonesian Government.
High above Djakarta's newest department store, the 13th floor may not be lucky for some tourists but it's certainly lucky for the Indonesian Government. Nobody knows quite how lucky. Like most casinos, the International Amusement Centre - known locally as the Sarinah casino - doesn't disclose its profits. Nor does it disclose its annual turnover.
Gambling was legalised in Djakarta in 1968 by the Governor, Ali Sadikin, with two aims. One was to attract more tourists by providing an entertainment centre of international standing. The other was to exert some control on the city's community of compulsive gamblers - the Chinese. Previously, the Chinese gambled illegally on anything - from cards or mahjongg to stunts involving matches or buttons. Now, much of their punting money falls into the coffers of the Indonesian Government.
The fact that the Sarinah casino is angled at overseas tourists is emphasised at the entrance. Visitors can walk straight inside. Indonesian citizens must prove they can afford to gamble before they're issued special permits. Mostly, these go to Chinese residents: few Indonesians meet the target financially for the 300,000 Chinese in Djakarta still control much of the city's commercial enterprise. Those officially not allowed to gamble under any circumstances are members of the Indonesian Army Forces, government officials, students and minors.
The other casino controlled by the Government is called "Petak Sembilen". It's on the edge of Chinatown and caters mostly for the Chinese in the area. Like Sarinah, it features games common to casinos the world over: roulette, baccarat, black jack, dice and poker machines. The Asian influence shows up in games like "Pombola", which is roulette played with a ball the size of a tennis ball. Another innovation is "Eeno" - the Asian version of bingo. The only difference is that the numbers are selected on ping-pong balls whizzing around in a glass cylinder.
Something like 500 people gamble each day at the Sarinah casino alone. The daily turnover must run into millions - that is millions of rupiah for you can buy 370 of them for one American dollars. Top payout is 480,000 rupiah - roughly $US1,400.
Not all the money tumbles in from the tourists or from the professional gamblers. The Sarinah casino opens at one o'clock in the afternoon and for the next four hours its crowded with housewives.