Goa’s Own Las Vegas

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Casinos with expanded services could be established at Mopa

Yet another extension of six months has been given by the state government to the six offshore casinos operating on the Mandovi. With the latest extension, the casinos can continue their operations till September 30. Since the offshore casinos started setting up their business on the Mandovi in 2000 they have been given extension every six months, though the government has been promising they would be shifted to another location. Even the casino companies have not been opposed to shifting, provided they get a proper location where they can set up larger casinos with more recreational and hospitality facilities without losing out on the customer arrivals. But the Goa government, which had given assurance to the Bombay High Court too to shift the offshore casinos, has not been making sincere efforts to relocate them.

Casinos have been operating for over two decades now and the demand to shift them is most vociferously raised by politicians when they are in opposition. However, they change their views when they come to power.  Atanasio Monserrate, when he was contesting the Panaji Assembly seat in the last elections, promised to the voters that he would get the offshore casinos shifted within 100 days of being elected. He was fighting on a Congress ticket. Soon after being elected he switched over to the BJP. Once he became an MLA of the party in power his view changed. He now says that the offshore casinos have helped businesses in the capital city and their relocation would hurt their incomes. Of course, it is true that businesses near a large recreational location earn more, with customers of the recreational centres seeking to fulfill their other needs by buying their goods or services. However, it is equally true that the city’s businesses existed before the casinos came and were surviving and thriving. The overwhelming majority of customers of the city’s businesses are the residents of the city. Even if casinos were relocated these businesses will not shut down. So Monserrate’s plea for approving of the offshore casinos’ present location does not stand on solid legs. On the contrary, both the businesses and citizens of the capital city have been complaining of the parking and other problems caused by the casinos.

What to speak of Monserrate, casinos were dubbed as sinful by other politicians too who likewise changed their stance. Thanks to the excellent relations casino managements have maintained across the political spectrum, most political parties and lone-ranging politicians have accepted that their continued presence was essential for the state as they contribute substantially to the public coffers. Not only the politicians of the ruling party, but even those in opposition are no more vocal in their demand for  shifting of casinos. The casino managements deserve congratulations for their silent and successful political diplomacy that helped them navigate a highly negative atmosphere.

However, if not for political reasons, surely for economic reasons, the casino business has to move to a larger, more open site. Since Goa has reconciled to having casinos as an important part of tourism business and as a contributor of substantial revenue to the state, it is necessary that the state create a Las Vegas of its own. Taking a leaf out of Sikkim government decision which allowed casinos to be set up on land, the Goa government announced a plan way back in 2017 to shift casinos on land at Mopa where a greenfield international airport is coming up. It was proposed that while the casinos would be shifted to land, their vessels would be used for tourist recreation. At least one casino company has already bought land around Mopa to build an onshore casino; others are expected to join it. The government should clear all bureaucratic hurdles to set up a Las Vegas around Mopa. Of course the offshore casinos cannot be shifted overnight. The government has to set a proper timeframe for casino owners to buy land and build casinos with hotel and other facilities. When the Mopa airport starts operations, tourists coming for gambling would go to the casinos at Mopa. Satellite businesses would have plenty of space to grow in Goa’s own Las Vegas.