Marriage? Really! You may be in doubt to read about the marriage between casinos and government. To make it more clear, this marriage is indeed an interesting one where the bride remains the same but the groom keeps changing.
Initially, Congress Government who was conducive to sail through the casinos into the Mandovi, and Pratap Singh Rane was the first groom who signed on the dotted line for the first casinos to move in. Later there were candidates of BJP Government who have been wedded to the industry for major period of time. Though both BJP or Congress favor moving casinos under Gaming Commission but they also feel that moving of casinos out of Mandovi would impact the businesses of casinos. Is it really so? Rather confusing to know which side the government is on? Instead the state governments who have ruled in Goa have been playing political gambling.
In 1992, Congress Government made an amendment to Section 13 of the Public Gambling Act of Goa, Daman and Diu, 1976, that allowed five-star hotels in Goa, Daman and Diu to have slot machines and games of electronic amusement. Soon after, in 1993-94, ‘Door’- the first onshore casino, was opened. In 1998, the Public Gambling Act, 1976, was again amended by the state government to allow offshore casinos which granted first riverboat gaming license for ship, ‘Caravela’- joint venture of Casinos Austria International and Advani Resorts.
In 1996, one more amendment was made that allowed offshore casinos to float into Goa. At that time, Congress Government was ruling the state. In 2006-07, the government led again by Pratapsingh Rane, clears proposal for five more offshore casino licences
From 2008 to 2011, then opposition party -BJP protested against the operation of casino vessels in River Mandovi saying offshore casinos have no FDA license. The party raised fears that sewage from offshore casinos as well as floating restaurants and cruises are being dumped in the Mandovi. It even suggested to move offshore casinos out of sight from the capital city and shifted out to sea.
It was in 2012 that BJP won State Election in Goa. Now lets have a look at efforts made by BJP State Government in the making of Gaming Commission.
- In July 2012, ex-Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar assured that Gaming Commission would be set up and also drafted a new legislation to regulate it.
- In May 2013, Parrikar ensured to notify the said Bill introduced in the Budget session, in the monsoon session in 2013. Later, he defended the delay in notifying saying “regulation of casino operations is complicated and a serious issue and needs a thorough study before notifying the Bill.”
- In July 2013, Parrikar said he will not close casinos in the state as he cannot afford to lose revenues worth Rs 150 crore.
- Afterwards, he reduced entry fee to casinos from Rs 1500 per person to Rs 500, a move criticised by the oppositions as well as social activists.
- In January 2014, government sets February 28 as a day to set up gaming commission, and banning entry of Goans below age of 21 in casinos.
- In March 2014, Chief minister Manohar Parrikar permits transfer of casino license, saying offshore casinos will have to leave River Mandovi by 2015
- In August 2014, government reiterates promise to notify rules and set up gaming commission.
In the present scenario, Goa actually needs a gaming commission to regulate the industry. The state governments instead of passing on the same bride forward, and making amendments in the Public Gambling Act should set up a Gaming Commission. Casinos are no new to Goa, there were casinos in Vasco during the Portuguese era. These casinos have been contributing a lot towards the state in terms of taxes. And don’t forget, after the mining ban, the government was able to pay wages due to the casino industry.
To conclude it all, there is an urgent need of Gaming Commission that will oversee operations of casinos in Goa and ensure all conditions are complied with. This will help to regulate the casino industry, including the percentage the casinos make out of gamblers, besides ensuring a grievance redressal mechanism. Furthermore, the gaming commissioner should have powers to impose fines and initiate prosecution in case of non-compliance of rules. The bill allows entry to casinos only for non-locals above 21 years who have obtained tourist permits from the gaming commissioner.