CASINOS –A GAMBLE FOR ALL

about 24 days ago
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“Goa? Why do you want to go to Goa?”

Ask this question and the answers are usually – to drink, to enjoy the sand and the beach, to gawk at the foreigners, to get high on drugs and they all have one thing in common – they all want to go to the casino. Visit to the churches and temples there? A miniscule 1% might want to do that.

Talk to any local and they all say that tourism is good but they now want the “good” kind not the boozing and casino going kind as they feel this image of Goa is tearing at the very fabric of the state’s culture. There has been a growing voice against the casinos and for years and years, be it the Congress or the BJP, they all have promised relocation of the casinos from the Mandovi river. Yet, that has till date never happened; every six months, for many years now, these casinos continue to run right there on the river front.

Like mining, casinos are a moot election point. The local’s voice is growing that casinos are polluting the river, over and above destroying the Goan culture and enticing the locals themselves into gambling, which they can ill-afford.

As we said, casinos are a poll issue and in the May bypolls in the state on account of CM Manohar Parrikar’s death, Congress candidate Atanasio Monserrate who joined the BJP after winning the vote, promised to remove casinos from the Mandovi within hundred days of being elected.

Well, on Wednesday, 25th Sept, the casinos were once again given another six months extension - from October 1 to March 31 or till an alternate feasible site is finalised, whichever is earlier. So the offshore casinos, 5 of them anchored at the Mandovi river and 9 in five-star hotels will continue with business as usual. Offshore casinos have live gaming with people playing against a dealer, while the onshore ones are restricted to electronic gaming.

In fact there has never been a lull or even a frown of worry for the casino owners  because they know that every six months, the extension will come, irrespective of the political party, whichever comes to power as there are too many vested interests in the business of casinos. Panaji business community – hotels, taxis, eateries – all get a lot of moolah from the casinos.

It was the Congress, which first gave the go-ahead to onshore casinos in 1992 with slot machines and this was extended to offshore casinos in 1996. Parrikar’s voice was the loudest, opposing the casinos. Interestingly, this anti-casino movement is what led to the BJP winning in 2012 in the state and once in power, the BJP too kept on renewing the licenses every six months, like it is happening now.

Jaydev Mody, the Chairman of Delta Corp, which owns the maximum offshore and onshore casinos in the state, was seen seated very prominently during Parrikar’s swearing in ceremony. Clearly, casinos are BIG MONEY spinners and for the political parties, they are a huge revenue fetching industry. So who will want to kill this hen which lays the golden egg?

Eye sore, climate change, change in culture of Goans – all reasons remain legitimate. But the bigger truth is that the state requires it – this is where its money for running the party and fighting elections comes from, over and above the revenue it earns for the state, legitimately.

So now its established that casinos will remain in Goa and the middle path chosen – relocation. The proposed site is near the new airport coming up in Mopa.  It is scheduled to open by 2020 but pace of work is slow and that deadline looks like the horizon – there but not really there. This in turn means the relocation of the casinos continues to dangle in the air. The extension till March 2020 means that they are going nowhere, not next year for sure.

The people of Goa and even Delta Corp are waiting for the new Casino Policy to come to light; once the relocation becomes clear, Delta too will plan on the relocation with more investments around it. The casino business feeds its hotel venture – that’s how the math works.

Thus whether Goan people like it or not, casinos will remain in Goa; they need to probably work on ways to retain their culture through other means.

Goa is today less about beaches and more about casinos – that’s the bitter truth.

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