Tightened fire safety regulations at karaoke lounges will come into force at the end of the year, but many smaller nightclubs are expected to defy the law. The regulations were gazetted yesterday, bringing about 200 karaoke lounges under the control of a licensing system that includes much tougher fire safety measures. The move comes after the Top One Karaoke blaze in Tsim Sha Tsui, in which 17 people died in January 1997. Under the new law, karaoke premises may not be located below basement level three and corridors must be at least 1.2 metres wide. Fire-resistant partition walls separating karaoke cubicles from the corridors must be capable of containing a fire for at least an hour. Karaoke operators had opposed the new rules, saying they could not afford the extra investment. But the law was eventually passed in July after 18 months of discussion. Kwan Lim-ho, a spokesman for the Karaoke Licensing Requirement Concern Group, said most karaoke lounges owned by the 'big four' in the market had been refitted to meet the new requirement. But he expected at least 100 karaoke clubs in Mongkok and Jordan would defy the new law. 'Some of them have said they will continue operation until they are banned, while others said they would scrap their karaoke facilities and provide only movies and television services,' he said. Mr Kwan said each of these clubs employed at least 100 people, who might lose their jobs if karaoke clubs were forced to close down under the new regulations. It was estimated that each karaoke club with a minimum of 10 rooms had to spend at least $1 million in modifications to meet the new requirements. Mr Kwan said the declining economy had already wiped out many karaoke lounges over the past two years. Anthony Lock Kwok-on, the managing director of California Red, which has 12 branches, said the chain supported the law and most of their branches had been modified. But he hoped the licensing fee, which ranged from $10,500 to $27,800, would be reduced as business had dropped because of the economic downturn. 'We will have to pay about $300,000 for the licences, which is quite heavy during the downturn,' he said. The bill will be tabled to the legislature on Wednesday. A 12-month grace period will be allowed to the operators to upgrade their facilities.