Gambling farms in the 19th century


Gambling activities in colonial Singapore attracted different opinions from the colonial administrators; Raffles abhorred and set out to ban gambling while Farquhar and Crawfurd saw gambling as critical for generating revenue. Although the colony outlawed gambling farms, it was difficult to totally wipe them out, and instead these dens flourished. Several ordinances were enacted in the 19th century to deal with gambling.

Early Regulation on Gambling
The inhabitants of Singapore under Raffles were already engaged in gambling activities. While the Malays were betting at cock-fighting, the Chinese were the principal gamblers. Cock-fighting and gambling were regarded by Sir Stamford Raffles to be the worst vices and he disapproved them. Raffles' counterpart, William Farquhar, however saw these "vices" as opportunities to obtain revenue and in 1820 issued licences for gambling farms while Raffles was away. Farquhar sold the licence of the gaming tables for $95 and a tax was levied on the Captain Chinas who were given control over the tables.   

When Raffles came back to Singapore in 1822, the differing views of Raffles and Farquhar on gambling resulted in arguments. Raffles ordered the closure of all gambling farms and cockpits through the Regulation, No. IV of 1823, entitled A Regulation prohibiting gaming-houses and cockpits, and for suppressing the vice of gaming of Singapore.  In that regulation, 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-house or cockpit, 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.  

Lucrative Gambling Farms
When Farquhar was replaced by John Crawfurd as the British Resident in 1823, to the delight of gambling den operators and gamblers, the new Resident supported Farquhar's idea about gambling farms.  In August 1823, Crawfurd permitted ten gambling houses in town and a cockpit in Kampong Bugis.  By 1826, gambling was the most lucrative tax farm, contributing to nearly half of the $75,000 tax-farm revenue.     

In 1827, one year after the end of Crawfurd's office, the Grand Jury demanded the prohibition of gambling, which he perceived as an immoral nuisance.  In 1829, gambling was banned throughout the Straits Settlements.  But this clamp-down drove gambling underground and although it became illegal, gambling flourished after the ban.  In 1832, many gambling houses still existed with at least 20 of them congregating on Church Street alone. 

Despite numerous appeals over the years, the gambling farm was never restored.  In 1834, Resident Councillor Bonham suggested to re-introduce the gambling farms but it was not done. In 1838, the press suggested the restoration of the gambling farm as illegal gambling dens were still operating blatantly with the connivance of the police.  In 1861, there was a shortage of female immigrants and Governor Orfeur Cavenagh contemplated to legalise gambling in order to fund an incentive scheme to encourage Chinese to bring their wives to Singapore.  However his idea was not implemented.  Despite the ban on gambling farms, gambling dens continued to exist. In 1862, the Sheriff had to convened a public meeting to tackle gambling after key European residents complained about the police's inaction toward gambling during the first two weeks of the Chinese New Year. 

Legislation on Gaming Houses
The first legislation against gaming houses in Singapore appeared to be within the Police Act of 1856.  Subsequently several ordinances followed, in 1870, 1876 and 1879, and finally in 1888 which was still in force at the end of the 19th century.  The ordinances targetted both the gaming houses and the public lotteries.  


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

Braddell, R. S. (1911). A commentary on the common gaming houses ordinance (V of 1888) [Microfilm: NL 5828]. Singapore: Kelly & Walsh.

Buckley, C. B. (1984).  An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819-1867 (pp. 60, 63, 97, 106, 112, 141-144, 149, 156, 240, 229, 317, 330, 366, 447-448, 471, 506, 691, 768).  Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.75 BUC)

Singapore local laws and institutions, 1823 (pp. 10-12) [Microfilm: NL NL7979]. (1824). London: Printed by Cox and Baylis.

Song, O. S. (1984).  One hundred years' history of the Chinese in Singapore (pp.11, 16-19).  Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.75 SON)

Turnbull, C. M. (1989).  A history of Singapore 1819-1988 (pp. 24, 26, 49).  Singapore: Oxford University Press.  
(Call no.: RSING 959.75 TUR)

Victor, P. (1940).  The old gambling farms: A Chinese problem in Malaya yesterday and today.  The Straits Times Annual 1940 81-87 [Microfilm: NL 7746]. Singapore: Straits Times Publishing.  

Gambling - a history pool. (1998, September 19).  The Straits Times. 

Further Readings
Singh, C. (1960).  Gaming in Malaya.  Singapore: Malayan Law Journal Ltd.
(Call no.: RCLOS 795.026 CHO)

Dobree, C. T. (1955).  Gambling games of Malaya.  Kuala Lumpur: The Caxton Press.
(Call no.: RCLOS 795 DOB)

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.

Sports and Recreation
Law and government>>Regulatory role>>Gambling

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