The number of jackpot machines in Singapore could go down sharply as the football and social clubs operating them will soon have tougher rules to contend with.
The new regime, to be rolled out over the next two years, will raise the bar for securing jackpot machine permits, and there will be tighter quotas for the number of machines a club can operate.
The minimum age for entering jackpot rooms will be raised from 18 to 21, and their operating hours will be restricted as the measures aim to protect the vulnerable from the ills of gambling.
The new rules were announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) yesterday and target machines outside the two casinos.
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They could have a major impact on the fortunes of some of the clubs running jackpot machines - including football clubs that have earned millions from this while not even fielding professional teams.
The aim is to ensure that jackpot rooms provide no more than an ancillary part of wider activities at clubs with a real social purpose and genuine membership, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said at a briefing yesterday.
"Our sense is that some (operators) 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," he added.
Mr Shanmugam also said that the quota for jackpot machines will also be cut over the next two years, without giving details of the reduction.
There are now about 82 jackpot venues and almost 1,900 jackpot machines. The number of machines could drop by around a third with the new rules, said MHA.
Currently, a club may operate jackpot machines if it has at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors.
In future, to renew such permits or apply for fresh ones, a club will have to show that it provides a "suitably wide range" of social and recreational services to members. The amount of income that a club derives from jackpot machines, compared to its total income, will also be examined. Those that do not meet the tighter criteria will have to stop operating such machines by April 30 next year.
All private clubs with such machines will also need to adopt a self-exclusion scheme from next May that allows individuals with a serious gambling habit to bar themselves from entering jackpot rooms.
Those who flout criteria may be penalised under the Private Lotteries Act and face fines of up to $20,000 and jail of up to a year.
The issue of whether rules for jackpot venues should be tightened came under the spotlight in April, after reports of Tiong Bahru Football Club's $36.8 million annual takings last year from its 29 jackpot machines. This was more than the Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) budget in the same period.
Reports also revealed that several football clubs which have not played in the S-League for some years continued running jackpot rooms with gross incomes ranging from $165,000 to $11.3 million.
Mr Shanmugam pointed out that the review that led to the new measures was announced on April 6 last year - well before the S-League saga erupted.
FAS said yesterday it would have to "review the measures in greater detail", while HomeTeamNS, which has five clubhouses and 120 fruit machines, said it would "endeavour" to meet the new requirements. Others such as NTUC Club said they would support, or have in place, measures that promote responsible gaming.
• Additional reporting by Wang Meng Meng