CASINOS are here to stay in Goa. It is a major revenue earner and the state government is not going to let them go. In India, there are casinos also in Sikkim and Daman, but it is in Goa that the casino business has, so to say, hit the jackpot! Daman has one casino and Sikkim two; Goa has six offshore casinos and several onshore ones. Casino is a business of several thousand crore in Goa. It is apparent from the revenue of over Rs 330 crore that the business is giving to the public exchequer. Which government will not be tempted by a revenue that almost matches the revenue in the form of royalty from mining? Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s statement in the Goa Assembly that the casinos and the related businesses were significantly contributing to the state economy therefore hardly came as a surprise. He was just stating the fact.
However, revenue alone should not be a government’s goal. Other factors have to be also considered in assessing an industry’s value to the economy and society. As far as the contribution to the economy is concerned, the present picture is very cosy: the footfalls have been increasing and the hotels, restaurants and other allied tourist businesses in Panaji and around have profited from tourist arrivals for casinos. However, three points need to be considered. One, the phenomenal growth in the number of footfalls is owing to offshore casinos, and they have a saturation point to contend with. There are five offshore casinos already, and the sixth one, which got grounded, is waiting to join. The government had promised several times not to allow a sixth casino, but they did allow it in an indirect way: the owning company was given all government approvals except permission! On legal grounds the sixth casino could not therefore be stopped from coming; only it came through the litigation route. Now the High Court has said that the government will have to first take their permission before granting licence to any new casino. The Mandovi river face of Panaji is crowded with casinos. It cannot take in any more. From the purely business point of view, therefore, offshore casino business has reached a saturation point. There is no space for growth in this business.
The second factor to consider is whether the casinos have to be necessarily on the Mandovi. Casinos in Daman and Sikkim are land casinos. All casinos in Nepal are land casinos. The state government has been promising for years to shift the offshore casinos. Sometimes they said they would be shifted away from the Mandovi river to the sea. Sometimes they said they would be shifted on to the Zuari. There were court orders on the shifting. But the casino companies adroitly used the labyrinthine escape routes that the justice system in our country provides and stayed on where they were. Recently when Town and Country Planning Minister Vijay Sardesai spoke of the government thinking of moving the offshore casinos to land, the officials of offshore casino companies reacted by saying that it might not be possible for them as they had invested a lot of money in the business.
However, considering all the factors – the limitation of the number of offshore casinos, the occupation of large spaces of the river breadth by them, damages caused to the river ecology, inconvenience to ferry commuters, daily violations of ‘No Parking’ rules by private vehicles and taxis ferrying casino customers – it would be reasonable to shift the offshore casinos to land. Las Vegas is the world capital of gambling, and all casinos in Las Vegas are land-based. Every casino in Las Vegas is not just a casino but a hotel, a variety entertainment spot, a bazaar and eating joints. Why cannot every casino in Goa be like a casino in Las Vegas? If the offshore casinos still want to be close to water they can relocate themselves on the seafront. Goa’s coastline is very long and some of it is still unexploited by star hotel business.
Thirdly, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar must move an amendment in the Gambling Act explicitly prohibiting the casinos from allowing Goans to enter. In Nepal, casinos are not allowed to let Nepalis gamble. In South Korea, no South Koreans are allowed in its casinos. We have heard government leaders often say that Goans would not be allowed to gamble in the casinos. However, without strict legal provisions to enforce this, it can only be presumed that a lot of Goans are going to the casinos. In the casino business the winner is almost always the casino owner. Goans need to be prohibited by law to enter casinos, if Goan society has to avoid ill effects of gambling.