‘Goans to be banned from casinos soon’, says chief minister Pramod Sawant

Hindustan Times, Panaji | ByGerard de Souza
Aug 07, 2019 10:37 PM IST

There has been a longstanding demand in Goa to ban locals from casinos but despite assurances by previous chief ministers of such a step, no ban has ever been imposed.

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told the legislative assembly on Wednesday that local Goans would soon be banned from entering casinos and a date for the ban to come into effect would be decided after consultations with his lawmakers.

Goa’s offshore casinos operate out of ships anchored in the Mandovi river that flows past Panaji.(HT PHOTO)
Goa’s offshore casinos operate out of ships anchored in the Mandovi river that flows past Panaji.(HT PHOTO)

In his reply to demands of legislators from both the ruling and opposition parties, Sawant said that he agreed with the view that Goans should not be allowed to enter casinos.

“Casinos are for tourists. Some come to Goa only to play in the casinos. Goans should not go to casinos. I agree with this,” Sawant said.

“We will fix a date. After this date no more Goans will be allowed in casinos. Give me some time. Let’s together finalise a date,” Sawant said.

Sawant’s assurance came on the back of demands from legislators both ruling BJP and opposition who alleged that casinos are ruining local families.

“I know many Goans businessmen and builders who have become addicted to gambling because of this. I assure you that if you ban locals from casinos the business of the casinos will go down by 50%. In Macau no locals are allowed in casinos,” said Atanasio Monserrate who represents the state capital Panaji where all of Goa’s six offshore casinos are anchored.

Monserrate who won the Panaji assembly bye-election in March as a Congress candidate joined the BJP last month. During his poll campaign he had promised to remove the casinos from the Mandovi within 100 days of being elected.

Opposition legislator Churchill Alemão alleged that Goa’s casinos are cheating their customers by offering a very low spending to earnings ratio.

“Real casino players will go to Macau or Singapore where they make better winnings,” Alemão said.

Sawant’s promise is the latest in a long list of promises made by successive chief ministers to ban locals from entering casinos.

In August last year, the then Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar promised that only tourists would be allowed in Goa’s casinos from January this year.

“As a policy Goans will not be permitted to enter the casino’s playing areas and only visiting tourists shall be permitted. A mechanism in this regard will be put in place once the gaming commissioner is appointed and appropriate rules for regulation shall be formulated,” Parrikar had said in the Goa legislative assembly in August last year.

But nothing came of it and no gaming commissioner was appointed.

Parrikar went on to repeat the promise in January this year but the proposed ban on Goans did not come into effect.

Another former chief minister, Digambar Kamat had also promised a similar ban.

There are six offshore casinos in Goa, boats anchored in the Mandovi river that flows past the capital city.

The 19-year-old industry isn’t just a big draw for thousands for tourists but contributes around 300-crore to the state coffers in licence fees and around 90 crore per year as State GST. Not including the other fees and taxes the industry pays like excise duties and anchorage charges it still makes up 5% of the state’s annual revenue of 7500-crore. And that’s just government revenue.

From one offshore vessel which began operations in the year 1999, the state today has six gaming vessels that all float within a one-kilometre stretch of the River Mandovi. Industry insiders reveal that each venue makes a turnover of around 120-crore per year and draws 600-800 people per vessel, especially on weekends.

Sawant reiterated the government’s promise to set up a designated gaming/entertainment zone to move the existing casinos but said there was no deadline.

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