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In recent years, the continued operation of Goa’s offshore casinos on River Mandovi has invited increasing public and political ire. Under mounting pressure, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has made several significant announcements on this issue in the past fortnight. Sawant has reiterated that offshore casinos would be shifted to the Mopa Airport project but underlined that locals would not be allowed to enter them. In a recent development that will undoubtedly hit the casino industry hard, the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) Commissioner has declared that from next year onwards, it will not renew the trade licenses of offshore casinos.
Declaring this last Saturday, Mayor of Panaji Uday Madkaikar said that CCP corporators would pass a resolution to not renew the trade license of any of the offshore casinos. “I spoke to the MLA (Atanasio Monserrate), and we took a decision that CCP will not renew their licenses when they come up for renewal next. They will not be able to do business here. They will have to shift their business operations and will have to automatically move their entry point out of Panaji,” Madkaikar said.
Referring to MLA Monserrate’s statement in the state legislative assembly where he had said that during weekdays, 80% of casino guests are Goans while tourists visit in the weekends, Madkaikar charged, “They (casinos) have not come to give us free money, they’ve come to take away our money.”
The offshore casinos in Goa are operating from vessels moored on River Mandovi and have been regularly facing political and local allegations of spoiling the Goan culture and polluting the river waters. Though their relocation was envisioned in the draft Casino Policy formulated by late CM Manohar Parrikar-led government in 2017, the policy remains “under consideration” by the government till today.
Last year in April, the state government issued the first six-month extension to offshore casinos to relocate from River Mandovi. Since then the permission has been extended every six months. The same year in August, Parrikar had told the legislative assembly that the Casino Policy was being finalized and that a Gaming Commissioner would be appointed to regulate the casinos. Parrikar had said, “By December, we will come up with the main policy on relocation of casinos.”
This did not happen, and in March this year, the permission given to the offshore casino to continue their operations from River Mandovi was extended for another six months.
The CCP seems to be on the warpath with the offshore casinos in Panjim. In May-end the CCP had initiated an anti-encroachment drive in the area located near Casino Big Daddy. What began with the team removing lights, signboards, and steps constructed near the casino entrance led to an altercation between the casino employees and the CCP team. Making matters worse was the fact that a woman who was part of a group supporting the casino later lodged a police complaint alleging that City Mayor Uday Madkaikar along with Panjim MLA Monserrate and former deputy Mayor Yatin Parekh had molested her during the confrontation. In response, MLA Monserrate lodged a counter-complaint against the casino owner and others for attempting criminal intimidation and intentional insult.
The incident snowballed to assume more significant proportions, and on June 1, a big group of 200 locals led by Congress’ women wing leaders staged a protest against the offshore casinos.
The CCP and the local political leadership is not taking the continued presence of casinos along the Mandovi’s banks in Panjim lightly. The renewal of the trade license of the offshore casinos is done between April to June every year. Though licenses of the offshore casinos have been renewed this year, with CCP intending to refuse renewal from next year onwards, it seems that the offshore casinos may soon find themselves in a tight spot.