SINGAPORE: Supermarket chain Giant will remove mystery box vending machines from its Tampines and IMM outlets after police issued an advisory on Thursday (Aug 16) calling them "a form of public lottery", and therefore operating them without a licence is an offence.
"The current mystery box machines located at Giant are operated by third-party vendors," a spokesperson for the supermarket chain told Channel NewsAsia in response to media queries.
"We understand the vendors have been notified by the authorities and Giant has arranged to remove these machines from store premises by today."
These machines, part of Giant's VendMart cluster of vending machines that offer a diverse range of items such as toys and lifestyle products, will for S$10 dispense a surprise item of a higher value, including the supermarket's vouchers, household appliances and an iPhone 8.
Over the past few years, a growing number of these mystery box machines have popped up across the island. One example is Takara Box, which offers customers the chance of getting gaming consoles, laptops and luxury handbags for just S$5.
Takara Box vending machines can be found in at least 15 locations across Singapore, including at shopping malls like Plaza Singapura, The Star Vista and Tampines 1.
But the police said that merchants who operate vending machines that dispense random mystery prizes upon receipt of cash payments" in public places are breaking the law.
"As this is a form of public lottery, it is an offence under Section 5(a) of the Common Gaming Houses Act," it said.
"Existing merchants operating such vending machines are advised to cease these operations. Police will take enforcement actions against merchants who continue to contravene the law."
Those found guilty may be fined between S$20,000 and S$200,000, and jailed for up to five years, the police added.
Takara Box did not respond to queries on its Facebook page or calls to a number it provided on the page.
However, it said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that it is "upgrading" its service and will return "soon" with a new concept, without elaborating. It is unclear if this is in response to the police advisory.
A spokesperson for AsiaMalls, which manages a few malls with Takara Box machines, said it is working closely with the operator to ensure that the machines are "in compliance with the law".
"We will continue to work with the relevant authorities as required," the spokesperson added.
Channel NewsAsia has also reached out to CapitaLand, which manages several shopping malls where Takara Box machines are located, as well as Golden Village, which has the machines in two of its cinemas, for comment.
Criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan told Channel NewsAsia establishments might be unaware that such machines run afoul of the law. As these machines involve an element of chance, he explained, they are considered public lottery.
Those who use the machines can also be caught and prosecuted, Mr Sudheesan said, referring to Section 8 of the Common Gaming Houses Act.
Nevertheless, criminal lawyer Luke Lee said the police should not enforce it if the machine deals in stakes that are not high.
He said: "It may technically be a crime, but who does it harm?"
Mr Sudheesan said while the machines should be regulated, "licences should be given out upon application so that this can be monitored".
However, Channel NewsAsia understands the police will not issue permits for such machines as it is an offence to operate them.