THE government has promised to announce its casino policy in the monsoon session of the Assembly. Casinos have been operating in Goa since 2000 without a casino policy. The government decided to set up a gaming commission to regulate gaming at casinos five years ago, but it is yet to take shape. How the casinos have been operating in the absence of a policy and a commission is anybody’s guess. There are five floating casinos operating on the river Mandovi; the government has accorded permission to a sixth one. Issues have been raised of casinos changing the tourism profile of Goa, having an unhealthy influence on Goan social life, obstructing river navigation and causing pollution. Will the government be able to address these public concerns through its policy?
Some of those sharing power with the BJP were vocal in the past about “ill effects” of casinos on the locals, particularly youth, about locals losing their earnings to gambling in casinos. The Bharatiya Janata Party had promised in 2012 Assembly elections to move the casinos out of the river Mandovi but it failed to honour its word. Though the government decided to bar locals from gambling in casinos, we cannot be sure it is implemented effectively. The casinos are being operated without any regulatory authority to oversee their operations. The government had announced that there would be no more off-shore casino, but now there is one more. The government’s explanation that the new casino is in owing to the directions of the High Court can hardly fool anyone. The government needs to come out clean on this issue and let the public know why it accepted the fees and other charges from the sixth casino if it really had no intention to allow it to operate.
While Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar had been away in the US, Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai has been making announcements about changes in laws and making of policies to move offshore casinos to land apparently for the consumption of the casino owners and the members of the public. He has gone on record to state that the issue of casinos was under the domain of Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, but he still chose to comment that he was personally opposed to casinos operating on the River Mandovi. He talked about amendments to bring casinos onshore. Rather than expressing his personal views to the media Sardesai should put forward his views before the cabinet and goad the government to amend the Goa Public Gambling Act to lay down the boundaries of casino operations.
We do not know if Sardesai has really studied the implications of moving offshore casinos to land or spoken out something off the cuff. As far as inquiries by this newspaper suggest, the state government has no proposal before it for moving offshore casinos to land. The idea has not even been thought of! On the contrary, those in the know of the government affairs say that offshore casinos, apart from being gaming stations, were a tourist attraction. The fact that the casinos were floating on the river Mandovi right in Panaji was a big draw for tourists who wanted both a different type of environment along with gaming. It is not even certain if Vijay Sardesai has considered the views of the casino operators. As far as they are concerned, they say they have made a lot of investments in setting up an offshore casino and would not of course let it be wasted. The industry feels that in case they are forced to move on land they would have to make substantial investments in setting up newer facilities besides losing the investments made for the vessels and refurbishing them. There is every chance that they would challenge it in court if the government decides to move them to land.
Sardesai has also not thought where the land for moving offshore casinos would be available. Local people have been opposing even educational and IT projects. Will they allow casinos to be set up in their backyard? However, whatever it takes, the casinos should move to land. After all, there is a limit to the number of casinos that can operate on the river Mandovi. And if expansion of a business is so restricted, it is neither interesting for new entrepreneurs nor the government which will see little increase in revenue. The government cannot go on increasing the levies on the existing six casinos to increase its revenue! Secondly, the casinos are causing traffic problems in navigation. Thirdly, they are the cause of violations of ‘No Parking’ signs every evening on the road along the river. The government must move casinos to land to overcome all these problems.