Jackpot machines in clubs to be reduced in numbers with tighter regulations to guard against problem gambling

Singapore clubs with jackpot machines
Jackpot machines at Hougang United FC’s clubhouse Photo source: Wee Teck Hian

Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)in Singapore last month announced that clubs operating jackpot machines will come under more restrictions as a step to guard against problem gambling. These restrictions will now have to follow more strict rules in order to even get a permit to run such facilities. These Jackpot machines are commonly seen in many football, social and country clubs, but with the new tightened rules they are set to become sparser or to be shut down within the next few months.

According to the ministry (MHA) these clubs that have paid lip service to conditions for operating slots by making jackpot gambling the main activity on their premises will have to close down their jackpot rooms by end-April  2018.

Citing the NTUC Club as an example of an outfit that would be able to meet the new criteria, Mr Shanmugam said only clubs that have a “bona fide social purpose” can provide jackpot machines as an additional service.

Jackot machines to be reduced by number

Many clubs’ quotas of jackpot machines will also be cut — progressively, over two years — while new curbs will be imposed on their operations so that individuals are better shielded from the harms of jackpot gambling.

With the various measures in place, the 1,900 jackpot machines at 82 clubs are expected to fall by about one-third within two years. A review of the jackpot operations at clubs was announced during the MHA’s Committee of Supply debate last year.

In April this year, it emerged that Tiong Bahru Football Club had collected S$36.8 million in 2016 from its 29 jackpot machines, more than the Football Association of Singapore’s budget for 2017.

The clubs were given permits to operate slots were on the condition that these formed “only an ancillary part” of at least three other social and recreational activities such as karaoke, swimming and gym on their grounds.

But over time, “a number” of clubs have made slots their dominant offering, necessitating a tightening of criteria for jackpot permits. Speaking at a media conference on the changes, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said the new quota for jackpot machines will be based on the space allowed to be set aside for slot patrons, as well as the total number of these games.

According to the minister  the number of space by percentage will be decided for jackpot machines  and other games to regulate them. Also MHA 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.

These factors will be assessed annually, as to how much of the income is derived (via jackpot machines), and how much of it is part of the total income. A permit officer, appointed by the Home Affairs Minister, will assess whether the individual clubs “provide a suitably wide range of substantive recreational and social facilities and services to their members”, when their permits are up for renewal later this year.

The MHA said it was unable to comment on the number of clubs that do not meet the criteria until the assessment is done.

Now 21 years as the minimum age to gamble and limited playing hours

As part of the clampdown, access to jackpot rooms in clubs will also be tightened. From November, the minimum age will be raised from 18 to 21 — in line with that of the two casinos here — and only individuals who hold a membership term of at least one year will be allowed in. Members will no longer be allowed to bring guests into the jackpot rooms.

The operating hours of jackpot rooms ( currently not restricted) will also be limited to between 10am and 11pm. In addition, all clubs operating slots must enforce the exclusion scheme under the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG), starting from May 2018.

This means that any individuals who are barred by law from the casinos or are kept out because of their financial situations or family’s objections must also be denied entry to jackpot rooms by these clubs. Currently, 25 clubs already enforce the scheme, of their own accord.

Other social safeguards clubs have to put in place include a ban on advertising and promotions relating to jackpot machines within and outside the clubs. The rule also applies to Internet advertising and promotion.

To prevent punters from prolonging their stay at the slots by dipping into their pockets repeatedly, jackpot rooms must also get rid of any ATMs, credit card facilities and other forms of electronic funds transfer.

Also individuals who are barred by law or by their family members from the casinos will be denied entry. Clubs that have not implemented a self-exclusion scheme for their jackpot rooms must also do so.

Voice of club owners

Singapore Xin Hua Sports Club president Gan Cheng Song said the changes will “definitely affect” jackpot operations at his club. The slot machines are important to clubs, because it is not cheap to run such clubs, and it requires some other forms of support. While Mr Gan declined to reveal the number of slot machines his Chinatown-based club is running, he said they operate from 10am till 3am.

According to Gan the clamping down on the number of slot machines by the Government, will create lost of difficulties for clubs to expand. In addition to managing a football team, Mr Gan hopes his club can venture into badminton and table tennis – by setting up five additional slot machines to generate more income.
On the other hand, SAFRA welcomed the new measures, saying it supports “responsible gaming”. The association deploys an average of 20 jackpot machines per clubhouse.

At present, clubs may operate the machines if they have at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors. Clubs that “flout the criteria” can be fined up to S$20,000 and jailed up to a year under the Private Lotteries Act.

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