(Press Release) The Maharashtra government is considering implementation of the Maharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976 (Act No. XXXI of 1976), a four-decade old legislation that was put in the cold storage even though it was passed by the legislative assembly and approved by the Governor.
The Bombay High Court in response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by lawyer Jay Sayta (then a law student), had on several occasions directed the government to holistically look into the issue and decide in a time-bound manner on the implementation of the decades-old law. In its latest order dated 9 October 2015, the High Court had given the state government, a period of six months, to decide on implementation of the law. In addition, an option of filing a fresh petition extended by the court to Sayta, in case he is dissatisfied with the efforts of the State, in implementation of the Act.
Sol Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. is one of the companies that have applied to the Chief Minister for a license under the casinos legislation, for operating a casino at a suitable location identified by the state government. Manish Kamani, Director of Sol Entertainment, noted, “Our company has experience of running casinos in Goa and we strongly believe that if the state government notifies the Casinos Act, it will generate thousands of crores in revenues while preventing illegal activities, bolstering tourism and generating employment for the unemployed section of the society. Allowing fair and licensed gaming is a win-win situation for all stakeholders.”
Jay Sayta, the petitioner who prompted the government to look into the matter said, “Through media reports, I have come to know that the four departments in the government, i.e. law, home, tourism and revenue are studying the matter and high-level bureaucrats will decide on the issue.”
Jay further explained, “The executive government of the day has to implement laws framed by the legislature and has no discretion on whether or not to implement it. The government has to either decide to notify and enforce the law or repeal the legislation. It cannot keep the legislation in cold storage or abeyance forever- it has to take a decision one way or the other and inform the people of the state.”
Another company, SGT Sports Gaming Pvt. Ltd. has also submitted a proposal to the Chief Minister to authorize and license sports betting shops in urban areas under the casinos legislation act and has assured the government over Rs. 500 crores of tax revenues annually. To prevent problems associated with gambling, the company has added that it proposes to install CCTV cameras in all its betting terminals and link the feed to the nearest police station. The proposal also adds that only those filing income tax returns and having a PAN card will be allowed to place bets in the shops to avoid the problem of addiction amongst the poorer sections of the society.
The principal secretaries of the four departments- Home, Law & Judiciary, Revenue and Tourism are likely to meet and take a decision on the matter very soon. In fact, Parag Jain, Managing Director of Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC) has already written a letter to the Home Department stating that their department is in favor of casinos, as it will bolster tourism.
About Maharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976
The Maharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act was passed in the legislative assembly and assented by the Governor on 22nd July, 1976 after much discussion and deliberation in the house. The statement of objects and reasons of the Casinos Act indicates that legalizing gambling was desirable for the purpose of promoting tourism and increasing revenues to the exchequer.
The Act provides for licensing of casino games in public places on payment of such license fees as may be prescribed. The Act defines casino games to include all games of betting or wagering including games of chance played by means of machine or instruments making it possible to regulate both online and offline gaming. The Act also provides for a reasonable rate of taxation not exceeding twenty-five per cent to be imposed on license holders and allows the state to frame rules to regulate gambling advertisements, prevent underage gambling and impose other restrictions as may be necessary.