Arcade Fever Sparks Concerns as Students Spend Hundreds of Dollars for Arcade Games


Alicia (not her actual name) spends roughly $2,500 each month at arcades, playing games that earn her tickets that she may swap for electronics and toys. She visits the arcades around five times each month, typically for up to two hours each time. It is exciting, according to the Secondary 1 youngster who does well in school.

On school days, arcades are not allowed to accept anybody under the age of 16, except between 6.30pm and 11.59pm. There is one exception: entertainment centers without computer games can welcome minors under the age of 16 on school days from 7.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m., as long as the licensee assures they do not play video games.

Alicia claims she has never been caught because she removes her school uniform before accessing arcades in malls near her school. “I can buy these toys online and spend less money, but it feels totally different getting them at an arcade,” the adolescent, who gets her money from her mother, told The Sunday Times (ST).

“There, I get the satisfaction of winning the toys on my own, which really makes me happy. She is especially fond of prize-redemption games, such as coin-pusher machines and claw machines that provide tickets and toys to players. The tickets may be redeemed for prizes such as household appliances and even cell phones.

Observers are concerned that when players are attracted by rewards that are potentially worth more than what they spend on the machines, the boundary between gaming and gambling becomes blurred.

Prize-redemption games are also popular in cities such as Hong Kong. Previously, some arcades enabled customers to swap game points for cash, which was unlawful.

According to media reports in 2020, several teenage gamers enticed by fast money became addicted to fishing games, which entail shooting at marine animals to collect points, and found themselves in debts totaling more than HK$100,000 ($17,400).

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Games of Chance and High-Value Prizes at Amusement Parks – MHA’s Perspective

Alicia (not her actual name) spends roughly $2,500 each month at arcades, playing games that earn her tickets that she may swap for electronics and toys.

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) told ST that it has detected an increasing trend of games with elements of chance at amusement parks and funfairs.

“High-value prizes, such as smartphones and gaming consoles, are also available.” This may enhance the danger of gambling temptation, particularly among vulnerable persons such as young children,” a ministry official noted.

To mitigate this danger, the MHA announced limitations on rewards awarded at amusement parks and funfairs beginning March 1, 2024. Limiting the value of prizes to less than $100, barring operators from awarding cash, currency equivalents, credit, merchant vouchers, or coupons as rewards, and restricting customers from selling prizes back to operators are among the restrictions.

Tokens that resemble coins are dropped onto a continually moving platform by coin-pusher devices. The goal is to start a chain reaction that causes tokens or rewards to fall from a ledge.

According to Professor Lawrence Loh of the National University of Singapore, determining when to drop the coins requires some talent. However, the unknown characteristics, such as the strength of the moving platform and the way the coins stack, provide a random aspect to the game.

Prof Loh, head of the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at NUS Business School, stated that in recent years, he has witnessed an increase in the number of games that rely significantly on luck, such as Monopoly Roll-N-Go, emerging in arcades.

In this game, participants spin a massive lit-up dice until it lands on a number equal to the number of tickets they will receive. They have the opportunity to win a jackpot of thousands of tickets. Prof Loh stated, “The shift to chance-based games could be a way for arcades to gain more patrons, as anyone can play these games, as opposed to skill-based games, which require more practice to master.”

Prize-redemption games amounted for almost 30% of game machines at four mall arcades ST visited. These machines are located at the arcade’s entrance, tempting customers with bright, flamboyant signs and appealing songs.

For example, the i-Cube machine at Timezone in Orchard Xchange allows customers to win an iPhone, gaming chair, or hand massager if they can move and insert an S-shaped key into a keyhole.

Every try costs $2.20 in game credits.

Mr James Walton, Deloitte Singapore’s transportation, hospitality, and services sector head, stated that one way arcades separate themselves from mobile and PC games is by providing customers with real benefits.

“The possibility of winning prizes at the end of a game distinguishes arcades from other types of gaming.”

“This is especially true if the prizes are exclusive merchandise redeemable only at specific arcades,” he noted.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, believes that the bright lights and loud music at arcades might entice gamers.

“Some of them lose track of time and end up spending hours there pressing buttons,” he explained, adding that there is a risk of prize-redemption game players searching out riskier games and gambling.

“As time passes, they may become accustomed to the high they get from arcades and seek more excitement from games with higher stakes,” he says. However, this does not imply that playing these games would result in a gambling addiction.

To protect the kids, Dr Lim recommends that parents watch their children and limit their spending at arcades so that they do not become addicted to these games.

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Exploring the Common Motives: Gambling and Prize-Redemption Games

According to addiction therapist Andrew da Roza, the motives that drive people to gamble are identical to those that lead them to play prize-redemption games.

“The thrill of winning prizes and the anticipation of winning them are what keep people playing.” “For some, these games are also an escape from reality, a way to get away from their problems, stress, or boredom,” he explained.

Mr. da Roza, the chairman of We Care Community Services, which helps individuals with addictions, stated that elements of chance make winning prizes unexpected and contribute to the pleasure of these games. He made it clear that an individual is regarded addicted to video games only if he causes major damage or anguish in his life.

This involves spending above his means, damaging relationships by lying to his family about playing games, and feeling concerned when he does not have access to these games.

“Unlike gambling, which can result in large losses, these games are usually not that expensive.” “It is unlikely to be destructive enough in most people’s lives to necessitate professional assistance,” Mr.da Roza added.

ST watched consumers at arcades over two days, many of whom were seated at prize-redemption machines with plastic takeout containers full with tokens.

Jaime Low, 21, was attempting to acquire a complete set of collector Disney cards at a coin-pusher machine at Cow Play Cow Moo in Suntec City in order to win an additional 17,000 tickets. The bonus tickets can be redeemed for prizes such as laptop speakers.

Ms Low claims she spends up to $340 a month on these games, which she pays for with her pocket money and internship stipend. She spent $300 to win AirPods, which retail for at least $150.

“There’s a sense of accomplishment when you see the tickets pile up.” “It helps me de-stress and relax after a long week,” she continued.

Some customers were observed attempting to win high-value prizes costing hundreds of dollars.

Mr Sathish Kumar, a 40-year-old construction worker, was enjoying the i-Cube machine at Timezone at Orchard Xchange. He spent roughly $20 attempting to win an iPhone 12, which retails for around $550 online.

“I figured it was worth a shot – a couple dollars for a big payout.” “However, after a few attempts, it seemed impossible, so I stopped feeding the machine more money,” Mr Sathish remarked.

He stated that he may return to the machine to try again, but that he will not spend more than $20.

Engineer Edwin Toh, 36, who was with his seven-year-old son at Paco FunWorld in Bugis+ during the September school vacations, said he restricts the amount of prize-redemption games his kid plays.

“It’s okay for youngsters to have fun a few times. “However, the danger comes when they become addicted to winning random prizes and spend all of their pocket money trying to fuel that kind of excitement,” he adds.

The arcade’s ticket redemption games, according to Mr Lao Jiwei, do not allow players to earn more than what they put in.

“Let’s say they spend $10,” he remarked. Even if players finish the game and win all of the available bonus tickets, they will only receive $4 to $5… Players can only win up to the amount they paid for.

“It will always be cheaper to buy the prizes offered in retail or online stores.”

Mr Lao went on to say that games at Cow Play Cow Moo have a skill component to offer players some control over the result.

He stated that the arcade will re-curate the range of rewards given before the new limits take effect.

“Games that are perhaps more problematic are those where you pay a small sum for the chance of winning a high-value prize, such as blind box machines, where $10 can win you an iPhone,” Mr Lao added.

Players do not know what is inside a blind box, also known as a mystery box, until they buy and open it.

“These games are programmed to reward players after a certain number of tries,” Mr Lao explained. We have never run games like this in our 15 years of operation.”

Many types of gaming, including PC and smartphone games, have aspects of chance, according to Mr Nesh Selva, general manager of Timezone Singapore.

“Essentially, anything that is not guaranteed to result in a win involves an element of chance, at least until someone has played enough to master the ability to predict outcomes,” he continues.

Mr. Nesh stated that the arcade supports the MHA’s new guidelines since they shift the industry toward ethical gaming and emphasize experiences over monetary incentives.

He pointed out that just a tiny percentage of Timezone customers redeem high-value products, and that this is not the arcade’s main focus.

“This is evident in our diverse mix of attractions, such as bowling and bumper cars, which encourage group participation and foster social interaction,” he said.

In response to ST’s inquiries, the Singapore Police Force stated that gaming machines installed in any amusement center, public entertainment outlet, or other public spaces must be licensed by the police. They said that there are presently 147 licensed entertainment centers.


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Source: The Straits Times


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