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Will allies force Parrikar’s hand on Goa’s cash-rich off-shore casinos?

Apart from the allegation that the casinos encourage the habit of gambling among the people of the state and thereby undermine public morality, there are serious environmental repercussions that are often pushed to the background.

analysis Updated: Jul 26, 2017 17:49 IST
Aasheesh Sharma
Aasheesh Sharma
Hindustan Times
Goa,Casinos,Gambling
The lobby of Goa’s off-shore casinos is one of the biggest cash-cows for a government that is largely dependent on tourism for its revenue(Sanjeev Verma/HT)

Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar on Monday assured the state legislative assembly that no more permits for casinos in the state will be given. He added that a legislation enacted in 2012 banning the entry of Goans in off-shore casinos will be implemented in the next three months. Plus, the number of off-shore casinos in Mandovi River will be capped to the existing five vessels, which would ultimately be shifted to land in next three years.

Parrikar appears to be under pressure from partners within his coalition government to finally act on the issue. Shifting the five off-shore casinos from River Mandovi was part of the common minimum programme announced before the BJP came to power. Apart from the allegation that the casinos encourage the habit of gambling among the people of the state and thereby undermine public morality, there are serious environmental repercussions that are often pushed to the background. A report by the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) reveals that the Mandovi has become unsafe for recreational bathing, water sports and fishing owing to coliform bacteria. This comes in the wake of allegations that off-shore casinos care little about polluting the water and don’t submit details of sewage and solid waste that they are meant to dump in the high seas. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) is likely to hear the matter in September.

Significantly, going by the state’s regulations, off-shore casinos allow the high rollers to indulge in high stake games such as poker, Baccarat and roulette, while on-shore ones, mostly stationed in five-star hotels are allowed low stake slot machines. The fact is that the lobby of off-shore casinos is one of the biggest cash cows for the government that is largely dependent on tourism for its revenue. In fact, a big chunk of the entry fee to the vessels goes to the government. Industry estimates say the casino vessels along with high-end onshore casinos contribute close to Rs. 200 crore a year to the state coffers. A study by management consultancy KPMG estimated that Indians spend around $60 million on gambling every year. Casinos fall under the purview of state governments, and just two out of 29 states (Goa and Sikkim) allow them. Legal gambling in other states is limited to lotteries (for instance Lotto in Sikkim) and horse races (in Mumbai and Bangalore).

Ironically, to begin with, Parrikar carved out his political credentials using the anti-casino bogey. While he was in the opposition, he was their staunchest critic, resolving to drive off-shore casinos out of the Mandovi. But once the BJP came to power, precious little was done to carry out on the threat.

Now, when Parrikar says his government will amend the Prevention of Gambling Act to ensure that all the casinos in the Mandovi cease to exist after three years, one should take it with a pinch of salt. Whether pressure from allies such as the Goa Forward Party and the Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party will force his hand this time remains to be seen.

@Aasheesh74

First Published: Jul 26, 2017 17:49 IST