Mystery prize vending machines are now illegal in Singapore, according to an announcement made by local police cited by news outlet the Straits Times. A ban on the machines is being rolled out as their number has grown tremendously over the past year and at least four operators of such devices have been found to have set up business in shopping malls, retail stores, and arcades across the city-state.
Generally speaking, the machines in question dispense random non-monetary prizes upon receiving a cash payment by players. They usually charge between S$5 and S$10. The “mystery box” prizes they dispense are usually of low value, but operators of the machines often promote them as ones that offer customers the chance to win big prize such as gaming consoles and smartphones.
According to a Thursday statement by the local police, the devices represented a form of public lottery and were, therefore, breaching provisions of the Common Gaming Houses Act. The statement further read that operators of such vending machines were advised to cease their operations. Under Singapore’s gambling laws, violators of its provisions face prison time of up to five years and fines of between S$20,000 and S$200,000.
The machines originally gained popularity in Japan, Malaysia, and Taiwan, but have quickly taken off across Singapore over the past year, the Straits Times reports.
Claw Machines Not Gambling
Police clarified that unlike “mystery box” machines, those at arcades that allow customers to grab a prize with a claw in exchange for a certain fee, are not considered illegal gambling. The reason was that players can easily see the prizes they are paying and playing for.
When asked whether other forms of mystery boxes, including ones offered on e-commerce platforms, should be deemed gambling, authorities said that it is up to the public to seek legal advice on matters of this nature.
Commenting on whether mystery prize vending machines posed a threat to players, addiction specialist Thomas Lee told the Straits Times that he did not think the risks of addiction were that big. He went on to say that the only real danger is that children can get hooked up and spend money on them.
According to the expert, the idea behind gambling is that people wager on a random outcome, on something they do not have control over, and that it does not really matter whether there is something at the end or not, as it is still gambling.
The Straits Times further reports that mystery prize vending machines across a number of shopping malls, arcades, and stores have been removed overnight, following the Thursday statement from the police. However, there were still several facilities that featured the devices, with their owners claiming they did not know that those were now illegal.