Gambling to survive: Why Singapore’s football scene is a sham

Singaporean football teams are benefitting from millions of dollars put into their on-site gambling machines, investigations have shown. This money is vital to keeping the sport alive.


Singapore’s football fans are eagerly waiting for news after police raided the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) headquarters and some big-name clubs. They are investigating the extraordinary amount of revenue teams and football associations are earning from jackpot machines.

Millions of dollars are being spent in gambling machines

The Straits Times reported that Tiong Bahru Football Club’s (TBFC) annual gross income as of March 2016 was S$36.8 million (US$26.1 million). This rang alarm bells considering other football clubs typically bring in around S$5 million (US$3.6 million). Investigations by the Singapore authorities found that S$31 million (US$22.01 million) of this money came from the club’s jackpot machines.

This route to revenue is common for football clubs and associations in dire need of extra cash. Expenditures are often very close to income (see table below). This creates a moral issue for the supposedly-virtuous associations.

Their need for finance may bring illegal gambling, loan shark-related activities and other violent acts into their teams’ pseudo-casinos. Their work may be less about the beautiful game, and more about backdoor vice.

Average spending by TBFC in 2016

Football accessories US$122000
Gifts and sponsorships US$78000
Staff salaries US$380000
Entertainment and refreshment US$76000
Clubhouse rent US$689000
Salaries and bonuses (excluding football players) US$985000
TOTAL US$2.24 million/year

Source: The Straits Times

Money from these machines goes to taxes as well as back to clubs

Bill Ng, TBFC’s manager, explained the money was needed to keep the club open “approximately 80% to 85% [of the money the machines bring in] is returned to the player, or paid to winners who play the jackpot machines. Normally, after payouts and taxes, the club only has about 7% of gross margins as surplus left for its operations costs,” he addedhelping police with their enquiries.

Other organisations, including the Ceylon Sports Club, SIA Group Sports Club and Singapore Cricket Club, also rely largely on jackpot machines to increase their revenue. The Automobile Association of Singapore hosts thirty slot machines. Clubs generated up to S$4 million (US$2.85 million) in revenue from these machines in 2015.

The largest casinos in the city-state are in the Marina Bay Sands at Resorts World Sentosa. The entry fee to the casino is S$100 (US$72) and per person and this means regular visits are out of reach for many citizens. By comparison, the machines at clubs and associations are generally free to use for guests.

Such use of illegal activities isn’t new to Singapore

It is important to note that discrete and extra-legal gambling is not new to Singapore. Secret societies and Chinese clan associations invested in gambling activities as far back as the 19th century. The 1829 ban on all such gaming forced these gambling dens to go underground.

The Singaporean appetite for gambling was not extinguished. The nation was home to the second-largest number of gamblers in the world in 2014, said research from one consultancy. Losses from these bets amounted to S$9.9 billion over that period.

According to H2’s founder, Simon Holliday, the easy access to gambling in Singapore is a large contributing factor. The average loss incurred per adult in Singapore was S$1,964 (US$1,392). These numbers reflect only the legal betting facilities, there may be many more dollars lost to sub-legal rings.

The flood of betting money fueling sports activities is of particular interest to the public as the government has recently increased spending on resources for Singaporean sportsmen and sportswomen. This has seen the creation of a new sports hub and added to pressure for the scene to work in a clean and transparent way. When the money being spent on sport is just a drop in the ocean compared to the gambling revenue teams are getting, what exactly is their business model?

Malaysian teams also struggle to raise the revenue they need

The problem of raising cash for sports teams is not unique to Singapore but the approach is different. Teams in Malaysia can cost RM12–15 million (US$2.7-3.5 million) per season to run. Ticket revenues there average around RM3 million (US$690,369), sponsorships provide RM3 million (US$690,369) and merchandise brings in RM200,000 (US$4600). This means external sources of revenue will always be needed.

Average club expenditure for Malaysia Super League (MSL) teams

Administrative salaries US$27600 0.9 Administrator, media officer, doctor, security officer, kit man
Home match organization US$75900 2.4 Stadium rental, match organisation, security, etc
Away match logistics US$55200 1.8 Travel & accommodation
Coaching staff salaries US$435000 12.4 Head coach, assistant coach, GK coach, fitness coach, physiotherapist
Local player salaries US$1426000 48 26 players @ average US$4600/month
Foreign player salaries US$989000 33 4 players @ average US$20000/month
Other miscellaneous costs US$46000 1.5
TOTAL US$2.97 million

Source: FourFourTwo

Across the straits, innovative ways have emerged to support local teams – promoting gambling is not the only answer. Selangor fans attempted to raise RM15 million (US$3.5 million) by asking fans to donate RM1000 each. This alternative, and less corrupt, way to generate money for clubs is morally better but would not work in the longer term.

Singapore’s football scene is still in its infancy but its leadership is changing

Illegal sports gambling between fans is becoming a pertinent issue across all of Asia, say reports. However, the case of Singapore is the first time less acceptable means being used by football and sports associations have received attention. It may not be the last. The city-state’s football scene is one of the least established among ASEAN countries and revenues are vital to developing a club’s status.

Lim Kia Tong, the former Football Association of Singapore (FAS) vice president, won the 2017 FAS elections after winning a two-third majority vote. It remains to be seen if this old hand has new ideas to clean up the game.

There is “the belief that this is the team to take Singapore football forward,” new vice-president Edwin Tong said. Simply put, there is still hope. To gain people’s trust the management of Singapore’s sports associations needs to be more ethical, responsible and pragmatic. This means closer monitoring by and of officials, as well as greater monetary restrictions.

This will reassure fans and sponsors in continuing to support their favourite teams. Government aid might also be needed to guide teams away from relying on gambling income. The business model must shift from little more than an excuse for gambling to a credible system which the public can support. Officials have cleaned up the governing council, now they must clean up their name.