Written By: Hariz Baharudin
Nearly a third of the 1,900 jackpot machines in 82 social and football clubs here will be removed over the next two years as part of tighter regulations to protect people from the dangers of gambling.
A review announced last year has led to the rollout of more stringent criteria for permits, quotas and access to these machines, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said yesterday.
The measures, plus stronger social safeguards, to be phased in over the next two years, will likely have a major impact on the revenues of these clubs.
Access to jackpot rooms will be stricter from November, with the minimum age raised from 18 to 21. Entry will also be limited to members who have signed up for at least a year, and no guests are allowed. A member can bring up to two guests now.
The rooms can only operate from 10am to 11pm, unlike the unrestricted hours currently. The New Paper understands that some clubs now operate the machines round the clock.
By May next year, all clubs with jackpot rooms must adopt a self-exclusion scheme, where people with serious gambling issues can bar themselves from entry.
Currently, 25 clubs are under the scheme. Those excluded from casinos will also be barred from jackpot rooms.To fulfil the tighter permit criteria, clubs must operate jackpot machines only as an ancillary part of recreational activities.
At present, clubs may operate the machines if they have at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors.
But for future renewals or applications, clubs that fail to provide a “suitably wide range” of social and recreational services must stop operating “fruit” machines by April 30 next year.
Those who flout the criteria can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed up to a year under the Private Lotteries Act.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who announced the changes, said: “Our sense is that some of them sort of pay lip service to the need to provide other services and focus on the jackpot machines as their primary objective. That we cannot allow.
“We will look at what the main ‘business’ of the organisation is, and whether it is bona fide, and whether there is a social purpose to be served.”
Mr Shanmugam said the quota for jackpot machines, which is tied to a club’s membership size, will be reduced in the next two years.
Asked how many machines could be affected, he said: “Our sense is that looking at current trends, maybe the number of machines would come down by 30 per cent, one third or so.”
“Our sense is that some of them sort of pay lip service to the need to provide other services and focus on the jackpot machines as their primary objective.”
– Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam
Jackpot venues made headlines in April with reports of Tiong Bahru Football Club’s $36.8 million takings last year from 29 jackpot machines. This was more than the Football Association of Singapore’s (FAS) budget in the same period.
Several football clubs that had not played in the S-League for years, including Tanjong Pagar United, Gombak United, Woodlands Wellington and Sinchi Football Club, were found to be still running jackpot operations with annual grosses ranging from $165,000 to $11.3 million.
An FAS spokesman told TNP yesterday: “FAS would need to review the measures in greater detail before responding to queries on them.”
Country clubs contacted by TNP also said they could not comment because the changes came as a surprise.
Mr John Yap, chairman of S-League sit-out club Gombak United, which has 22 jackpot machines in its Kitchener Road clubhouse, welcomed the new measures.
While describing its jackpot operations as an “extremely important source of funding”, Mr Yap said that gambling is a social ill that needs to be “contained”.
He added: “I believe the authorities have given it a lot of thought. All the measures, like the reduction of machines, limiting the operation times and ensuring tighter compliance, are all moves in the right direction.”