As many jackpot machines in Singapore clubhouses face the prospect of being eased out over the next two years, one particular group of patrons will mourn their passing: Not the die-hard gamblers, but those who throng such places for refreshments and companionship.
In a move to tackle the harms of gambling and to crack down on clubs that have been using these machines as their main activity and source of income, the Ministry of Home Affairs announced tougher rules for machine permits and quotas on Thursday.
It will also curb access to such machines, and said that while there are almost 1,900 machines in 82 clubs now, the number could drop by a third as tighter rules kick in.
The rules could take a toll on some clubs, with Gombak United chairman John Yap saying they could also hit Gombak's main income stream hard.
Among the Gombak clubhouse's regular patrons is a 33-year-old warehouse assistant who declined to be named: "I will feel sad if this place is forced to close (its machines)... this is a place where I can meet people, talk to them, drink coffee with them - it is a social thing."
Retiree Thor Saw Kim, 78, who visits Tiong Bahru Football Club every day, said: "I am an old person. What do you expect me to do if I don't come here? This is one of the better clubs because they provide food like red bean soup and free drinks like Ovaltine."
She added that she has seen family members visiting the clubhouse together as well: She once saw a 95-year-old man accompanied by his daughter when playing the jackpot machines.
A 63-year-old cleaner who wanted to be known only as Madam Ong said she visits the Tiong Bahru clubhouse to watch others gamble, and to enjoy the free air-conditioning and coffee.
But unlike others, she will not be too sorry to see it go, as it can cause "many people to suffer big losses".
Meanwhile, some said it does not matter if one club closes, as there are other options. An odd-job worker in his 50s who wanted to be known only as Ah Quee said even if the Tanjong Pagar United clubhouse, where he has a membership, closed its jackpot room, he could still visit other places like an NTUC Club near his home.
With some patrons, including elderly residents, standing to lose a social pastime if their clubhouse stops operating jackpot machines, MPs said it will be a community effort to engage them in other stimulating activities.
MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling, who is deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for Social and Family Development, said: "Helping the elderly stay connected to social networks is important because we want to make sure they remain active and are not isolated. This has an impact on their health as well."
Mr Seah Kian Peng, who is GPC chairman for Social and Family Development, said grassroots organisations should step up their outreach to those who may be affected by the tighter regulations. "One way is to make sure that there are alternatives and diversity in activities offered, to cater to people with different interests," he said. "We can improve our outreach, make them even more accessible and lower the barrier of entry for participants."
• Additional reporting by Nicholas de Silva