Stricter rules for jackpot machines: Club patrons welcome new self-exclusion rules

A patron going into Tiong Bahru Football Club’s clubhouse at People’s Park Centre, on June 14, 2017.
A patron going into Tiong Bahru Football Club’s clubhouse at People’s Park Centre, on June 14, 2017.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Around three years ago, Benjamin (not his real name) lost $60,000 at the casino tables.

He placed himself on "self-exclusion" from casinos and jackpot rooms but, around three months ago, felt the urge to try his hand at the jackpot machines again.

"I saw my wife's NTUC membership card and used it to gain access to the jackpot machines at an NTUC Club near my home," said the 39-year-old sales manager. "I have been stopped before, but sometimes they never really check whose card I am using."

Thrice a week, he was at the jackpot machines from morning to evening. Within two months, he had lost around $7,000 and found himself borrowing money from friends.

Benjamin, whose wife does not know about his troubles, said he wished there were tighter regulations to prevent access to those like himself who are on exclusion lists.

"I think the biggest challenge for me is the temptation of all these places. Even if there were no casinos, or you excluded yourself from them, there are many clubhouses which have such jackpot rooms," said Benjamin, a father of two sons aged eight and 10.

He has now got his wish, after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced yesterday that it is tightening regulations over the operation of jackpot machines by clubs.

One key change is that access will be restricted, particularly for those on exclusion lists.

 
 

However, not everybody is convinced it is a good deal.

Mr Jimmy Hua, 83, who makes coffee at a coffee shop in Toa Payoh and claims he has lost "about $500,000" since he started playing jackpot machines in the 1960s, said he cannot control his addiction.

"I know that I will lose money, but I must still come whenever I am free or I have time," said Mr Hua, who was at the Tiong Bahru Football Club's clubhouse at People's Park Centre yesterday.

He does not intend to put himself on the self-exclusion list, noting: "I think the Government controls a bit too much and doesn't give us old people an avenue to use our time. I hope Tiong Bahru continues to operate because they are good and cheap."

Retiree Thor Saw Kim, 78, who visits Tiong Bahru's clubhouse daily, spending up to eight hours there at times, said jackpot machines are better than mahjong. "In mahjong, I will get scolded by others when I don't play well. But here, I play by myself and winning a little makes me feel happy," she added.

But others, like retired technician Jason Koh, 66, who spends five hours daily watching others play jackpot machines at Scarlet City at AMK Hub, welcomed the self-exclusion move.

He said: "Now, it is so easy for old folk to get an NTUC card and just enter to play... It is a pity all these regulars come here to waste their children's money, since they are mostly people in their 70s."

Part-time cleaner Oei Li Na, 60, who spends $100 to $200 each time punting at Scarlet City, recounted how she has seen some people losing $1,000 within two hours at the jackpot machines.

"If the Government closes more places, then it is good for these people. I would just find other places to pass my time," she added.

Mr Desmond Choo, who sits on the Government Parliamentary Committee for Home Affairs and Law, said raising the age limit and allowing those with one year of membership to enter jackpot rooms would compel businesses to pursue sustainable initiatives and not rely on fruit machines as an easy source of sustenance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Some patrons welcome new self-exclusion rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe