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Photo from Singapore Toy Sale fanpage

Do the mystery box vending machines really constitute gambling?

Singapore has always had a strict approach when it comes to public gambling or gaming. It is after all the rationale that the authorities needed to  curb the trend of punters who were "vulnerable to filching, unfair play and other illicit practices" that justified the setting up of Singapore Pools. In short, gambling under the auspices of governmental authority is legal. This makes clear that the government isn't against gambling per se but just against gambling that is not under the supervision of the government. The fact that the government went ahead and built the casinos in Singapore despite widespread disagreement lends credence to this view. 

This issue of illegal gambling has reared its head again. Supermarket chain, Giant, has been asked to remove mystery box vending machines from its Tampines and IMM outlets by the police who have deemed these vending machines as "a form of public lottery", and the operation of them without a licence against the law.

These machines work by offering a range of items such as toys and lifestyle products which will for S$10 dispense a surprise item of a higher value, including the supermarket's vouchers, household appliances or an iPhone 8.

When public gambling was outlawed, I believe the intention was to rid the nation of public unrest and loansharking. I do not believe that the intention was to rid the country of vending machines and harmless marketing gimmicks. What harm do these vending machines cause apart from making a lucky winner happy? Where is the public unrest? While these machines may be against the law on paper, I see absolutely no logical reason for banning them. Don't the police have better things to do?

I would like to think that there is a thought process in the application of the law by the police. What is the thought process here? Has there ever been one? Or is it simply an exercise of blind adherence? It is strange that the police go after such small things with efficiency but yet we are also the country that permitted the data of 1.5 million citizens to be stolen from right under our noses. Have our resources been utilised in the most effective way?

We go after harmless gimmicks but stand by doing nothing when the Little India riots broke out. This reminds me of the incident of the tragic suicide of teenager Benjamin Lim after enduring a strenuous session of interrogation with the police. While the end result in the Lim case was much more severe, the point is the same - the police will go all out to question a teenager and ban a vending machine but where there was real danger to human life, it did nothing.

I don't think members of the public have any issue with these vending machines. Nor do I believe that our police force should waste precious resources on such trivial matters.