At last Goa has decided to have casinos only on land. If Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar is to be believed the offshore casinos will shut down in three years – a sort of notice period during which their owners can decide whether they want to move to land or invest in another business. Three or four areas are already bidding for land casinos: Curchorem, Canacona and Mopa. While the government has declared its intention to deal with the issues relating to casinos, it might have come as a surprise that they have sought to go back on their commitment made to the High Court on permitting the sixth casino to operate on the river Mandovi. It was just over a week that the government allotted space and gave permission to the sixth casino to operate on the river Mandovi. The Chief Minister has now declared that the sixth casino would not be allowed on the Mandovi. As the permission to the sixth casino was given on the directions of the court, will the sudden change of decision not go against the High Court order?
It is unlikely that the owners of the casino will take the government order lying down and not challenge it. The government has to arm itself with new provisions in the law to deal with the situation arising out of its latest decision. The government has now declared its intent to cap the number of floating casinos on the river Mandovi to just five. The likely standoff with the owners of the sixth casino could have been avoided by the government had it exercised its power in a correct manner earlier, as has been claimed now, and informed the court accordingly. Now that the government has declared that the sixth casino could be allowed to operate elsewhere, it has to find a site that has all access facilities and hence acceptable to the casino owners in order to avoid another round of litigation.
As casinos are here to stay because of their major contribution to the state revenue (about Rs 340 crore, almost equal to mining royalty) a sound casino policy will go a long way in ensuring that the casinos are operated well within the legal framework without causing any problems. Many of the legislators have been raising various issues regarding offshore casinos. With the government declaring that it will come out with a policy in the next session (likely to be held in about six months from now), it should begin drafting the policy and identifying sites for setting up an entertainment zone straightaway. The policy should leave no scope for leakages, illegalities and manipulation.
Of course an important issue the government has to address is barring of Goans from casinos. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar says there are legal provisions to bar Goans from casinos. However, in practice, it hasn’t just been possible for the casinos to keep Goans out. Are the men and women at a casino front desk supposed to ask visitors for proofs of Goan nativity or domicile? What are the checks put in place by the government to separate Goans from other visitors? If the Parrikar government really wants to stop Goans going to casinos, they must make it compulsory for the casinos to do the full screening of the visitors. The casinos should be asked to put up a board at their front desk, carrying a line “Resident Goans not allowed entry to casino” or some such notice. The casinos should be asked to check every visitor’s ID and residence proof and enter the information with the person’s name and photo. The list of visitors should be sent regularly to the government, which should check it for any Goans who might have been allowed and impose a fine on the casino for allowing them.
Regulation is the second most important thing the policy must enforce. In Sikkim and Nepal, casinos have been caught for violations of tax and other laws. In Goa, such action has not been heard of, because the monitoring has not been very effective. There has been no gaming commissioner since the time casinos started operating. As the date for shifting the casinos to land has been set to a realistic three years, the government should complete the formalities for the same quickly and not wait for the last moment. Failure to honour the commitment could have political repercussions for the BJP (and Goa Forward) as the set deadline is just a year before the next Assembly elections. The government should make a shortlist of sites for land casinos. Land acquisitions could begin right away, as they take time.