Regulating Casinos

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A gaming commissioner before making rules is putting cart before the horse

THE state government, under pressure from various quarters for regulating the casino operations, has announced the first step to implementation of the amendment to the Goa Public Gambling Act made eight years ago to form a gaming commission. The government has appointed GST commissioner Deepak Bandekar as the first gaming commissioner. The government action may appear to be tentative or half-hearted as though a gaming commissioner has been appointed the rules to regulate casinos have not yet been drafted or notified. The onus on drafting the rules and regulations has been put on the newly-appointed gaming commissioner. The government for years had been taking the position that it was in the process of framing rules, though actually the process was never started for the reasons best known to it. Nor were any serious discussions held within the government or with the casino operators. Casinos operate in the US, Macau and several other countries in the world; the state government could have studied their regulations and enforced what suited them, but nothing of the kind was done, giving more room for doubts that the politicians were not interested in setting up a regulatory regime. In the absence of rules, casinos were carrying on their operations, and the commercial taxes department was collecting the taxes from them, but regulation was missing. The appointment of a gaming commissioner without setting up a regulatory framework rules is like putting the cart before the horse. 

The late Manohar Parrikar as chief minister had told the state Assembly in July 2018 that the rules to regulate casinos were being drafted and would be notified by December that year, which would be followed by appointment of a gaming commissioner. More than one and half years later Chief Minister Pramod Sawant appointed a gaming commissioner without the promised rules being notified. Perhaps playing to the gallery Sawant also announced that Goans would be barred from gambling on casinos. The onus on checking the visitors would be on the gaming commissioner. As Goods and Service Tax commissioner Bandekar has his hands full. It remains to be seen how he would discharge his duties as gaming commissioner without compromising his existing duties.

This is perhaps for the first time that the state government has sought to enforce a law without putting proper rules and regulations in place. Framing rules and regulations of the gaming commission would be an onerous task for Bandekar as he would have to begin from the scratch and ensure how to adapt the laws made elsewhere to Goa’s context. It is true that Bandekar has proved his capabilities as GST commissioner and managed to increase the GST collection of the state. However, it remains to be seen how long he takes to make the rules and how long does the government take to approve or modify them. Though a gaming commissioner has been appointed, the essential subordinate staff are yet to be named. 

While Goans have been barred from visiting casinos, can the tourists be allowed to enter the casinos without specific sets of rules? Absence of rules could jeopardise enforcement of government decision. Goans have waited for eight long years for casino gaming rules and could have waited a little longer till the rules were framed and notified. Rather than burdening a career bureaucrat the government should have entrusted the job of framing rules to legal experts to ensure that they were foolproof. Even if the rules are framed over the next few months, which is unlikely, the process for adopting them could take a much longer time as they have to be vetted by the law department, which is a time consuming process. The political vetting could take its own time. 

It is high time the state government came out clean before the public about the ‘importance’ of the casinos to public revenue in a not so happy financial situation. The government has been short of money for carrying out a number of approved projects. The politicians in power have been two-faced about casinos. On one hand, they have encouraged and supported the casinos because they are giving substantial tax income to the public exchequer, and on the other, they have played to the public gallery by promising shifting of the vessels and regulating them.