THE Parrikar government has given a six-month extension to the offshore casinos to anchor and operate in the River Mandovi. The government has justified the extension with a plea that it needed time to decide on the issues relating to the relocation of the casinos away from the Mandovi. The latest extension is one of the many such extensions given to the offshore casinos and might not be the last. Though the government had announced that a casino policy would be announced during the monsoon session of the state Assembly, it failed to do so. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has now promised to announce the relocation of the floating casinos by the end of the year. He assures that the process for framing casino policy would begin in mid-October and will be finalized by December.
The primary thing is that the government should not limit itself to announcements and promises for public consumption for the relocation of the offshore casinos. It should start the desired process straight away. But granting that the government policy is finalised by December 31, 2017, it is unlikely that the casinos would be moved out of the Mandovi any time soon thereafter. The government has to ensure that a site is selected to relocate the vessels. The process for identifying and finalizing an alternative site should be carried out by taking the local people and casino operators on board as unilateral decision could lead to challenge of the government decision in courts by them leading to further delay in shifting. As the probable relocation sites have met with opposition from locals, be it in the River Chapora or in the River Sal or at Ribandar, the government has a major task on its hand in finalizing any of these sites or identifying a new site and taking both the local people as well as the casino operators along. As relocation of casinos is a commitment the government has made to the people every effort should be made to honour it. Once the decision is taken on the alternative site, the government should begin the work on creating the infrastructure, like jetties, access to the river fronts, and other works that would be needed for shifting the vessels.
Opposition on the grounds of pollution being caused by the casino vessels and the demands and suggestions from several quarters to move them out of the Mandovi forced the government to think of shifting the casinos on the land at a specially created enclave. Though the government toyed with the idea some time back it has not made any formal proposal nor taken any policy decision. With casinos being among major contributors to the revenue of the state government, they just cannot be wished away. It is time that the government takes a clear-cut policy decision on whether to allow casinos to operate in rivers or shift them on land. Before arriving at the decision to shift the casinos on land, the government will have to carry out surveys to determine whether there is enough land to create special enclaves. The government has been toying with the idea of setting up special zones to hold electronic dance and musical festivals (EDMs). Finding huge lands required for such entities or events would be difficult along the coastal areas; so the government could identify land in the hinterland. EDM festival sites and casinos could complement one another and the government should give the idea of setting them up close to each other while framing the policies for the two.
The work on framing the policies should not just be an administrative exercise but a comprehensive process in which all the pros and cons should be studied threadbare. Goa being a tourist state, casinos and EDMs add to the existing facilities to attract more tourists and that means income to tourist-related businesses. Local residents around the relocation sites should be helped to benefit from the casinos and EDMs. The government could study the ideas and processes adopted elsewhere in the world – the US and Macau – while framing the policies. It should call for comments and suggestions from the stakeholders, non-government organisations and public before making the policies. While allowing the casinos to relocate the government should ensure that their operations do not have bad moral and financial consequences for Goan families. The casino policy should clearly define every aspect related to gambling and the government should ensure that locals are kept away from gambling. The government also must appoint a gaming commissioner, whose appointment has been long overdue, to regulate gambling at casinos.