Cong MLA seeks closure of Panaji casinos
Live gaming, defined as ‘table games’ involving several players (poker etc.), is allowed only on offshore vessels. Land-based casinos are only permitted to have ‘electronic amusement’ (slot machines).Updated: Jun 05, 2019 23:55 IST
Newly elected Panaji MLA Atanasio Monserrate wants six brightly lit, luxury vessels that serve as casinos and which lie anchored in the river Mandovi that flows past Goa’s capital city Panaji to go, although the state’s chief minister doesn’t share his enthusiasm.
Monserrate, a Congress MLA and the first non-BJP representative of the state capital, promised the removal of the casinos in the run-up to his election in May — a promise he is now keen on fulfilling. On Saturday, he oversaw an anti-encroachment drive against casinos encroaching jetty spaces along the Panaji river promenade, landed straight in a kerfuffle with casino staff and was booked by the police.
But are the casinos really going to move out from near Panaji? Offshore casino operators don’t think so. “If you relocate casinos from the Mandovi to some isolated place, how many people will go there and why?” asked one operator on condition of anonymity.
Narinder Punj, a representative for Big Daddy casino, a new entrant in the casino scene, said he is willing to move, given certain concessions.
“If the government comes up with something concrete with regard to our location and gives us licences for live gaming, we don’t have a problem shifting. But it will not be easy because the new location will have to be developed. Here in Panaji, we are right between the northern and southern part of Goa and have a captive tourist market. That would have to be re-built all over again at a new venue,” Punj added.
Live gaming, defined as ‘table games’ involving several players (poker etc.), is allowed only on offshore vessels. Land-based casinos are only permitted to have ‘electronic amusement’ (slot machines).
While it is broadly understood that the government is looking to set up a designated gaming zone in the vicinity of the upcoming Goa International Airport in Mopa in northern Goa, the absence of a formal policy has meant that there is nothing on record to that effect.
For now, casinos are given biannual licences valid for six months or “until an alternative location can be found”. Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has ruled out any time-table for shifting the casinos.
“We can’t tell those who have invested in the state to get up and go. We will have to decide on a policy, else in future, investors will not come to Goa. We will definitely shift the casinos once the casino policy is finalized and a gaming zone declared. But till then, we cannot provide a time-frame,” Sawant said.
Goa’s 19-year-old casino industry is a big draw for thousands for tourists and contributes around ₹300-crore to the state coffers in licence fees and around ₹90 crore per year as State Goods & Services Tax (SGST). Excluding other fees and taxes, the industry pays, such as excise duties and anchorage charges, that accounts for almost 5% of the state’s annual tax revenue of Rs 7500 crore.