SINGAPORE - The string of measures to tighten the operation of jackpot rooms at football clubhouses announced by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Thursday (July 20) have been welcomed by the local footballing fraternity.
Sinchi FC, a team made up for Chinese nationals, played in the S-League from 2003-2005 but had continued to operate a jackpot room of six machines at Sultan Plaza, had attracted flak for not fielding a team since it sat out of the professional league more than a decade ago.
Its vice-chairman Wang Jinhui told The Straits Times that he welcomes the regulation changes and will strive to offer sporting activities.
He said: "I fully support the changes as clubs should not be run like casinos. Sinchi actually has organised football activities even though we have been inactive in the S-League since 2005. For example, we had organised an outreach programme for children where the kids were trained by Singapore's former national coach Jan Poulsen.
"We have to run a jackpot room as 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."
John Yap, the chairman of S-League sit-out club Gombak United, which runs a clubhouse at Kitchener Road, added: "I welcome the changes but I will need to study them in greater detail."
A spokesman for the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said: "The FAS would need to review the measures in greater detail before responding to queries on them."
The key changes to the rules announced by the MHA includes mandating that a club will only be allowed to operate jackpots if it provides at least two other recreational facilities such as karaoke, gym or swimming pool, to align the clubhouses closer to its main purpose of offering recreational and social activities.
Membership rules will also be strongly regulated with entry to the jackpot rooms restricted to individuals aged 21 and above who hold a membership of at least one year. Members are also not allowed to bring guests into the jackpot rooms, whose operating hours will be between 10am to 11pm.
Clubs that do not meet the criteria will have to cease their jackpot operations by April 30 next year.
In addition, the quota of jackpot machines will also be reduced over the next two years.
The issue of the 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 is election presidential candidate Bill Ng, raked in $36.8 million from its jackpot room operations for the 2015/16 financial year.
This amount eclipses 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, after national sports agency SportSG filed a police report alleging the misuse of funds at Tiong Bahru and a club official attempted to obstruct a FAS audit. The FAS office at Jalan Besar Stadium was also raided.