Singapore Says Mystery Box Vending Machines Are Gambling
Law enforcement officials in Singapore have imposed a ban on vending machines which contain mystery prizes, according to the Straits Times. Government officials says the “mystery box” prizes violate provisions of the Common Gaming Houses Act.
According to a statement released on Thursday by Singaporean police, the vending machines are considered a form of public lottery. The vending machines contain a “mystery box”, which contain a prize usually of low value.
The machines have signage which tout the ability to win big prizes, including smartphones and video game consoles. The machines charge S$5 to S$10 to play, which amounts to $3.65 to $7.30 in US dollars under the current exchange rate.
As one might guess, the prizes paid to most customers are much lower than the price to play.
Why Mystery Box Vending Machines Are Popular
Vending machines with prizes gained popularity in Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia originally. Since they have been introduced to Signapore in the past year, the machines have become quite popular. Singapore bans most forms of gambling for its residents, though it has two of the most lucrative land-based casinos in the world: Marina Bay Sands and Resorts World Sentosa.
Those casinos are designed for tourists, with most Singaporean residents unable to gain entry. Singapore has some lottery gaming, but its officials have worked hard over the past couple of years to ban online gambling – which had gained popularity in the past few years.
Without such gaming opportunities, Singapore’s residents took to the mystery box vending machines. Now it appears police are going to shut down the gaming machines. It should be much easier to ban the vending machines than it has been for online and mobile gambling, due to the physical presence of the machines on the streets and in the shopping centers of Singapore.
Arcade Games Remain Legal
Not all gaming machines are banned. Police assured that arcade games which allow customers to grab a prize with a claw are still legal. Police said such arcade games of that sort are games of skill, where the player can see the prize they will receive. A mystery box allows no idea of what might be won, and it has no element of skill involved.
The Straits Times asked whether other forms of mystery boxes, such as the ones on e-commerce platforms, were deemed gambling, authorities simply said that people should “seek legal advice” before playing such games online. It is an important question, because Singaporean citizens can be punished for their gambling activity, while most western countries only punish the gaming operators – not the players themselves.
Underage Gambling Concerns
Authorities might be concerned about problem gambling or underage gambling, which easily could happen with such machines. Thomas Lee, an expert on addiction, told the Straits Times that he did not see a large risk of addiction coming from the mystery box vending machines.
Thomas Lee added that the right problem is the danger that children might spend money on the mystery box machines, then get hooked on the adrenaline rush of winning a big prize. Lee said that the key factor is that people wager on a random outcome, so the ban is about betting on something they have no control over – not whether such people win or not.
Where Are Mystery Box Vending Machines?
The Straits Times reported that vending machines with msytery prizes appeared over the last year in shopping malls, arcades, and even retail stores. After the statement by Singaporean police on Thursday, the news source reported that those vending machines appear to have been removed overnight.
Police noted that some mystery box vending machines remained after their announcement. When approached about their illegal gaming machines, the owners of the sites said they were unaware of the ban.