Stricter rules for jackpot machines: Football clubs worry as jackpot revenue looks set to shrink

Clubs with jackpot machines will soon face stricter restrictions, including more stringent permit criteria, smaller machine quotas, restrictive access for players and stronger social safeguards.
The jackpot room at Scarlet City, a clubhouse run by NTUC Club, in Ang Mo Kio Hub. For football clubs sitting out the S-League, they say jackpot income is needed to clear debts incurred from their days of playing professional football.
The jackpot room at Scarlet City, a clubhouse run by NTUC Club, in Ang Mo Kio Hub. For football clubs sitting out the S-League, they say jackpot income is needed to clear debts incurred from their days of playing professional football.

One club that left S-League over debts says it may be harder to run a professional team

Ever since Gombak United pulled out of the S-League in 2013 on account of financial difficulties, its chairman John Yap has wanted to get the club back into professional football.

Having cleared most of its debts by now, Mr Yap had been feeling positive that 2018 could be the year Gombak returned to the fold.

But the tougher rules on operating jackpot rooms at clubhouses announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs yesterday have put a question mark over the return.

Mr Yap, whose club operates a jackpot room in Kitchener Road, feels that the changes will curb social ills, but they could also hit Gombak's main income stream hard.

He said: "The shorter operating hours and the reduction in the number of machines will lower revenue. It will be a harder job to marry running a professional team and operating a jackpot room in the future."

Things could get even harder - he calls it a double whammy - if there is any cut in subsidies from national sports agency SportSG, Mr Yap said.

 
 
 
 
 

But Mr Yap still dreams of propelling Gombak back into the S-League.

"It is a big challenge but not impossible," he said. "The changes will make the clubs even more conscious of how much they spend.

"It will be up to the FAS (Football Association of Singapore) and the clubs to make the S-League even more attractive and competitive."

Sinchi FC, a team made up of Chinese nationals, played in the S-League from 2003 to 2005. It has attracted flak for continuing to operate a jackpot room with six machines at Sultan Plaza, despite not fielding a team for more than a decade.

Its vice-chairman Wang Jinhui said he welcomes the regulation changes and will strive to offer sporting activities. And although Sinchi is unable to afford a professional team, which typically costs about $1.2 million a year, the 56-year-old official believes he can retain the jackpot permit through sports and recreational activities.

He said: "Sinchi actually has organised football activities, even though we have been inactive in the S-League since 2005. For example, we organised an outreach programme for children in 2007, where the kids were trained by Singapore's former national coach Jan Poulsen."

The issue of jackpot rooms was highlighted in the build-up to the FAS' inaugural council election on April 29. Then, it was revealed that Tiong Bahru FC, an amateur National Football League club whose chairman was election presidential candidate Bill Ng, raked in $36.8 million from its jackpot room operations for the 2015/2016 financial year.

The amount eclipsed FAS' annual budget of $35.8 million from the same period.

The police also raided the clubhouses of Tiong Bahru, S-League sit-out club Woodlands Wellington and S-League side Hougang United, removing boxes of documents and computers on April 20. This came after SportSG filed a police report alleging the misuse of funds at Tiong Bahru and a club official attempted to obstruct an FAS audit. The FAS office at Jalan Besar Stadium was also raided.

But both Mr Yap and Mr Wang explained that the clubs sitting out the S-League needed the jackpot income to clear debts incurred from their days of playing professional football.

Since pulling out in 2013, Mr Yap revealed that Gombak has repaid about $2 million and is now "in a healthy financial situation".

Similarly, Mr Wang said: "We still owe creditors $170,000. But the integrated resorts (Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa) have affected our takings. Our annual profit is only about $10,000.

"But we support the Government's policies and we will try our best to come up with sports and recreation activities to keep our jackpot permit."

A spokesman for FAS said: "The FAS would need to review the measures in greater detail before responding to queries on them."

FAS officials will also meet their SportSG counterparts next month to find out the quantum of subsidies they will receive from the Tote Board for the next financial year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2017, with the headline 'Football clubs worry as jackpot revenue looks set to shrink'. Print Edition | Subscribe