Gambling farms in the 19th century



Gambling activities, also known as gaming, in colonial Singapore attracted different opinions from the colonial administrators. Sir Stamford Raffles abhorred it, and set out to ban gambling while Residents William Farquhar and John Crawfurd saw gambling as critical for generating revenue. In the 19th century, revenue farming was the common form of government taxation and control, and gambling farms were the avenue through which Farquhar and Crawfurd implemented legalised gambling. Although the colony outlawed gambling after Crawfurd left office, it was difficult to wipe out gambling activities in their entirety, and instead these dens flourished. Several ordinances were enacted in the 19th century to deal with gambling.

Early regulation on gambling
Gaming and cock-fighting were said to have been practised by the native inhabitants of Singapore and early immigrants. Gambling games were traditional in China, and cock-fighting was practised by the Chinese, as well as Indian and Muslim societies.1 Revenue farming was a common practice at the time where the government would grant the successful bidder the monopoly right to control a specific trade or product in return for a fixed rent.2


Sir Stamford Raffles was absolutely opposed to gaming and cock-fighting, having abolished the farms in Bencoolen where he was Resident from 1817 to 1822.3 Singapore would be no different. In a Minute, accompanying Regulations III and VI of 1823, he called these vices “absolutely pernicious in every degree” and [would lead] to other crimes being committed. As gambling could not be moderated by taxation in the same way as intoxicants like opium and alcohol could, they were prohibited. Interestingly, he identified gaming as being a vice of the Chinese, with cock-fighting being the equivalent among the Malays.4

Raffles’s subordinate, William Farquhar, the first Resident of Singapore, however, saw these “vices” as opportunities to obtain revenue, and in 1820 issued licences for gambling farms – overriding Raffles’s objections, while he was back in Bencoolen. Farquhar sold the licences at $95 per month, but soon thereafter, it was placed under the “Captain China”, the appointed headman of the Chinese community, and a tax was levied on him.5

When Raffles returned to Singapore, he ordered the termination of all public gambling, or gaming houses, and cockpits through Regulation, No. IV of 1823, entitled A Regulation prohibiting gaming-houses and cockpits, and for suppressing the vice of gaming of Singapore. In it, he proclaimed that as “the practice of gaming being highly destructive to the morals and happiness of the people”, the Government would not tolerate under any circumstances public gaming-houses or cockpits; and that “all persons are strictly prohibited from keeping such on any terms or pretence whatsoever”. The punishment for flouting this rule was severe: the confiscation of buildings used for gambling, and flogging of gambling farm operators and gamblers.6

Lucrative gambling farms
After Farquhar was replaced by John Crawfurd as the Resident in 1823, it turned out that the new Resident supported Farquhar’s idea about gambling farms. In August 1823, a month after Raffles had returned to Bencoolen, Crawfurd permitted ten gambling houses and a cockpit to operate. By 1826, gambling was the most lucrative tax farm, contributing $30,390, nearly half of the annual $75,000 tax-farm revenue.7

In 1827, the year after Crawfurd left office, the Grand Jury demanded the prohibition of gambling.8 In 1829, gambling was banned throughout the Straits Settlements.9 But this merely drove gambling underground and gambling continued to flourish after the ban. In 1833, many gambling houses still existed with at least 20 of them congregating on Church Street.10

Despite the problem of illegal gambling resurfacing over the decades and accompanying calls to restore the gambling farm, it was never restored. In 1836, The Singapore Free Press suggested the restoration of gambling farms to curb corruption of the police.11

As part of the discussions over the transfer of Singapore to the direct control of the Colonial Office in London, a proposal to revive the gaming farm was brought up by some residents.12 This resulted in a drawn-out exchange of letters from 12 July to 6 September 1960 between “Delta” and “Zeta” on the topic.13 In 1861, as part of a proposal to expand the resident labour force of Chinese, Governor Orfeur Cavenagh contemplated legalising gambling in order to fund a subsidy scheme to bring Chinese women to Singapore.14 

However the Governor’s proposal was not implemented. In 1862, the Sheriff convened a public meeting to discuss the problem of gambling after it had become an issue in the newspapers, and the suggestion of restoring the gambling farms was brought up again.15 This furore over gaming in the 1860s seems to have quietened down only after a petition by Chinese merchants against the restoration of the gaming farm in 1865.16 But with the turn of the century, revenue farming died out as governments took up the role of direct taxation, and legalised gaming activities in the 20th century were taxed directly by the government, instead of being farmed out.17

Legislation on gaming houses
According to Roland Braddell’s 1911 A commentary on the common gaming houses ordinance (V of 1888), the first Singapore legislation against gaming houses was within the Police Act XIII of 1856. Subsequently, other ordinances followed that expanded the legislation and brought lotteries under its purview in 1870 until the Common Gaming Houses Ordinance of 1888, which consolidated the earlier laws.18



Authors

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1. Price, J. A. (1972). Gambling in traditional Asia. Anthropologica, New Series, 14(2), 157–180. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg
2. Dick, H., & Butcher, J. (1993). A fresh approach to Southeast Asian history. In The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 3–18). New York: St. Martin’s Press, p. 3. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
3. Raffles, S. (1991). Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 297–298. (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 RAF-[HIS])
4. Raffles, T. S. (1991). Minute by the Lieutenant Governor. In S. Raffles, Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (Appendix, pp. 66–72). Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 68. (original work published in 1830). (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 RAF-[HIS])
5. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 63–64. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS]); Freedman, M. (1952). Colonial law and Chinese society. London: Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, p. 97. (Call no.: RDTYS 301.42 FRE)
6. Raffles, T. S. (1991). Regulation, No. IV. Of 1823. In S. Raffles, Memoir of the life and public services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (Appendix, pp. 45–46). Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RSING 959.57021092 RAF-[HIS])
7. Turnbull, C. M. (1988). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 44–46. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 144. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
8. Buckley, C. B. (1984). An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 145, 194. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 BUC-[HIS])
9. Turnbull, C. M. (1988). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, pp. 48–49. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
10. The late session. (1833, May 16). Singapore Chronicle and Commercial Register, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Gambling farm. (1836, March 31). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. The Singapore free press. (1860, July 5). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Correspondence. (1860, July 12). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 2; Correspondence. (1860, September 6). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, (1835–1869), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Turnbull, C. M. (1988). A history of Singapore, 1819–1988. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 75. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
15. [Untitled]. (1862, June 7). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. The Singapore free press. (1865, October 26). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1835–1869), p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Dick, H., & Butcher, J. (1993). Revenue farming and the changing state in Southeast Asia. In The rise and fall of revenue farming: Business elites and the emergence of the modern state in Southeast Asia (pp. 19–44). New York: St. Martin’s Press, pp. 35–43. (Call no.: RSING 336.200959 RIS)
18. Braddell, R. St. J. (1911). A commentary on the common gaming houses ordinance (V of 1888) [Microfilm no.: NL 5828]. Singapore: Kelly & Walsh, p. 1.



The information in this article is valid as at 2006 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Recreation
Sports and Recreation
Gambling--Singapore
Law and government>>Regulatory role>>Gambling