SINGAPORE - Clubs with jackpot machines will soon face tighter regulations as part of moves to protect patrons from the harms of gambling, said the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday (July 20).
The new measures, to be rolled out over the next two years, include more stringent criteria for jackpot machine permits, tighter quotas for the machines, and restricting access to rooms where they are housed.
Clubs which flout the criteria may be penalised under the Private Lotteries Act.
Under the Act, those found guilty of promoting or conducting a private lottery in contravention of any condition of the permit granted may be fined up to $20,000 and jailed up to a year.
The new regulations also require that all clubs with jackpot machines must adopt a self-exclusion scheme where individuals with a serious gambling habit can bar themselves from entering jackpot rooms.
The tigher criteria for jackpot machine permits will address concerns that some clubs focus on the jackpots as their primary activity. Clubs which run jackpot machines include football, recreation and country clubs.
They include NTUC Club, which runs Scarlet City jackpot room in Ang Mo Kio Hub, and some Safra and HomeTeamNS clubhouses.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, who announced the changes at a press conference on Thursday, said: "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."
The moves come after a review announced on April 6 last 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 budget in the same period.
Reports also revealed that several football clubs which have not played in the S-League for some years, including Tanjong Pagar United, Gombak United, Woodlands Wellington and Sinchi Football Club, continued running jackpot operations with a gross income ranging from $165,000 to $11.3 million.
Currently, a club may operate jackpot machines if it has at least two other recreational facilities, among other factors, said MHA.
Those which do not meet the tighter criteria will have to stop operating such machines by April 30 next year.
The assessment will be done by a permit officer, appointed by MHA, who will decide if clubs provide a "suitably wide range" of social and recreational facilities to members.
Mr Shanmugam said: "It will be a factor in our assessment eventually, annually, as to how much of the income is derived (via fruit machines), and how much of it is part of the total income."
If jackpot earnings are found to form a primary source of a club's total income, or "over-substantial", "then that's something we will have to discuss with the club itself", he added.
Currently, there are about 82 jackpot venues, and almost 1,900 fruit machines in Singapore.
The number of machines is expected to drop by around a third with the new rules, said MHA on Thursday.
As part of moves to restrict access to jackpot machine rooms, the minimum age for entry will be raised from 18 to 21. Entry to such rooms will also be restricted to individuals who hold membership terms of at least one year.
Members may not bring guests into the machine rooms either, and the opening hours have been restricted to between 10am and 11pm. Clubs can now keep the machine rooms open as late as 2.30am.
The enhanced restrictions on access to machine rooms and the operating hours will come into effect from November.
Players will also no longer have easy access to fresh funds with the prohibition on ATMs, Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale systems, and credit card facilities in jackpot machine rooms. Advertising and promotions of these machines will be prohibited within clubhouses, on the Internet, and on other media platforms. These regulations are expected to kick in by end of the year. Currently, clubhouses can advertise the jackpot rooms only within their premises.
Starting from May next year, some people with a National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) exclusion from entering casinos here will also be stopped from entering jackpot machine rooms. This applies to those who have family, third-party, or automatic exclusion orders, but not those who have self-exclusion.
According to NCPG figures in March, there were 2,364 family exclusions and 45,392 automatic exclusions. Meanwhile, the number for self-exclusions from casinos was 285,024.
But from May next year, all private clubs operating jackpot machine rooms will also be required to adopt the self-exclusion scheme, meaning that applicants can apply to be excluded from all jackpot machine rooms in such clubs.
Currently, 25 private clubs have voluntarily adopted the scheme, facilitated by the council. .