The state government has tried to mitigate the negativity of extension of six months granted to offshore casinos by raising the fees for them 2.5 to 4.5 times. Though the total contribution from the casino industry following the increase has not been quantified, the new fee structure is expected to bring in substantial amount to the government’s coffers. It is not yet clear whether the government decision to increase the fees levied on casinos was driven by expected fall in revenue due to mining shutdown or by a better estimation of casino companies’ profits. There are six offshore casinos and nearly a dozen onshore casinos operating in the state. The government has been promising to shift the casinos from the River Mandovi. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that a decision on the relocation of offshore casinos would be taken by March 31, 2018. However, no serious efforts were made to identify and develop a new location. The idea is to move them to a location that has plenty of land to be developed as an entertainment district. By granting them extension, the government has got another six months to identify a site for their relocation.
Apart from relocation of offshore casinos, the government has been dragging its feet on several matters. It is yet to appoint a gaming commissioner to regulate the casinos, a promise made way back in 2012. The casinos are doing very good business. People from different parts of the country and abroad come to engage in ‘gaming’ here – the euphemism for gambling. The shifting of offshore casinos is an issue that has been pending since the BJP was in opposition. However, neither shifting nor enforcement of regulation has taken place. The secret of the delay may lie in the fact that the casino companies, apart from giving the government good revenue, have also maintained a warm relationship with public representatives of different political parties. The intended amendments to regulate casino business have not been brought, though nine months have passed since they were announced and there are no signs of them coming anytime soon. The government has shied away from drafting a comprehensive policy to regulate the casino business and make them adhere to global practices regarding transparency and payouts.
It is true that the government faces problems in relocating the offshore casinos. The proposal to shift them to sites on other rivers has met with opposition from the local people living closer to those parts. Of course, the offshore casino operators have found the Mandovi as the best possible location so far, as their customers do not find it difficult to access because of its closeness to Panaji. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had announced that the government would shift the offshore casinos to land in an entertainment zone. The casino operators were to be given three years to set up infrastructure on land to continue their operations or face closure. Nothing has moved since then and it is unlikely that a decision could be arrived at in the near future to shift casino operations from the River Mandovi. The promised ‘comprehensive’ casino policy by the government within three months in July last year is yet to see the light of the day. Besides, there are no visible signs of endeavours being made to identify an entertainment zone, which many believe could come near the Mopa airport project.
The Chief Minister had announced that his government would not touch the ‘sin money’ derived from casinos for developmental activities and that the amount would be used for the welfare of destitutes. The subsequent hikes in casino fees, together with the latest huge hike, are indicative of the fact that the government is now dependent on money from the casinos and sees them as the goose that lays golden eggs to complete the developmental projects as well as service its ongoing schemes. There is possibility of the casino operators seeing an opportunity in paying higher fees as an investment in the state and might not resist the fee hike but would expect some major concessions from the government. Will the government allow the casino operators to derive advantage from the situation? It is difficult to give a definite answer. Rather than being over dependent on casinos for revenue, the government should look for scope for revenue generation from other sources. While it does it, it should as soon as possible find a land location where the offshore casinos can be set up, as in Las Vegas, the world’s gambling capital where casinos are scattered across a land area. The entertainment industries can grow as satellites to the casino industry in the area.