Football: Plan to centralise jackpot profits raises S-League clubs' ire

A club member having a game at one of the jackpot machines at Gombak United Football Club.
A club member having a game at one of the jackpot machines at Gombak United Football Club.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) had outlined its blueprint for next year's new-look S-League, meeting club officials on Tuesday evening (Dec 12) to present its broad plan for the competition.

What was not addressed at the session, however, was the FAS' proposal to centralise the administration of clubs' jackpot operations, a move that could have significant impact on club finances.

A key part of this plan is a pooling of profits to be redistributed across S-League clubs, and while no details have been presented, clubs were resistant to an idea they believe penalises those who are efficient and profitable.

"This was suggested by the FAS, and it seemed like centralisation is a way to convince the police that we are able to control these jackpot operations and channel the profits back to football," said Warriors FC general manager Paul Poh on Wednesday.

"But there is no way that we are going to agree to this. We are capable of running our own operations."

The Ministry of Home Affairs announced broad changes to regulations governing jackpot operations in July, in a move to guard against problem gambling.

This came after it was revealed in the lead-up to the FAS' election in April that National Football League side Tiong Bahru FC, a club that had registered $36.8 million in gross income from its jackpot operations, did not play in the S-League.

Seven clubs with jackpot machines have been told to stop their operations by April next year, including former S-League sides Gombak United and Tanjong Pagar United. Woodlands Wellington have already shut down their operations.

S-League clubs run on an annual budget of about $1.5 million, with $600,000 of that coming from FAS cash subsidies. While clubs have sponsors that help offset costs, most rely heavily on their jackpot operations revenue. The Straits Times understands that clubs with at least 10 machines can collect $600,000 annually.

The FAS' move to centralise jackpot profits could stem from a desire to protect the clubs' key revenue stream, but while it has engaged clubs on the possibility of what seems like a preemptive move, the details remain unclear.

An S-League club official revealed that of the nine football clubs that still have active jackpot operations, only three have provisionally agreed to this plan.

"How equitable is this system, and how is the FAS going to do this? We should just ensure that clubs follow police rules closely," he said, on condition of anonymity.

"The FAS can implement more internal checks in addition to monthly financial statements we already send to them. This will ensure that we don't fall foul of the new regulations."

Some clubs have in excess of 20 jackpot machines, but others like Tampines Rovers will get only five, if their re-application for a permit is approved.

While some question if this move to centralise falls foul of clubs' constitutions, others have moved to plan for life beyond jackpot profits.

"We don't have jackpot operations now, so this move will definitely help us, but we can't just sit and wait. Our committee is looking for other revenue streams," said Tampines Rovers' treasurer Ian Lau.

He noted that in addition to fund-raising dinners, the Stags are looking to dive deeper into the community in a bid to make the club more attractive to sponsors.

He pointed to a carnival that the club held last month in conjunction with their final home match at Our Tampines Hub as an example of a possible revenue generator.

Warriors are also making moves.

They have secured official licensee status of sports brand Umbro, and are looking to monetise the deal. They also run a jersey printing service, family karaoke room, and are exploring the possibility of opening a football fitness specific gym and a rehabilitation centre.

"Every club has different ideas, but we are clear that a year from now, the police may not renew our jackpot permits," said Poh.

"We are very clear that we must prepare ourselves for a life without jackpot machines in the future."