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Putting to rest (at least partially) months of speculation regarding the fate of the offshore Casinos currently operating out of Mandovi River, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant on Monday gave a clear indication of the issue. In a written reply to a question raised by BJP legislator Wilfred D’Sa in the Legislative Assembly, the CM reiterated that the Casinos would be relocated to Goa’s second airport in Mopa. The airport will have an integrated zone that will house casinos, as well as wellness, eco, and adventure resorts. In his written reply, Sawant stated that around 232 acres of land has been earmarked for commercial development at the airport in North Goa. While the relocation of Casinos will, without doubt, be a significant boost, what comes as a major jolt to the industry is the CM`s plans to allow only airline passengers into the Casinos.
The BJP-led Goa government has been under immense pressure for several months now over the issue of relocation of the offshore casinos. The opposition has lambasted the government over repeated missed deadlines for relocation with political parties raking up the issue weekly.
The casino industry, on the other hand, has been vocal in its support for relocation. India`s biggest casino operator, Delta Corp has always supported the idea of moving out its casinos from River Mandovi to an area near the airport. As per reports, the company has acquired nearly 100 acres of land approximately five kilometers away from the under-development Mopa Airport project.
In an interview to the Economic Times on October 31, 2018, Delta Corp Chairman Jaydev Mody had opined that moving casinos close to the new airport would be a win-win for everybody since it would decrease travel time for players and reduce the traffic in the river. However, had he taken into account the caveats that would accompany such a move?
Why Relocate Casinos?
Continued operation of casinos on-board vessels moored on River Mandovi has been the center of public and political ire, with locals and political groups rallying against the rising pollution of the river waters due to the high amount of casino waste dumped into the river.
Traditionally, the two major political parties in Goa, Congress and BJP have taken turns to publicly oppose the casino industry alleging that casinos are detrimental to the Goan culture.
The relocation of casinos to Mopa was first brought up by the then Goa CM, late Manohar Parrikar in 2017. He had told the state legislative assembly about the government’s plans to relocate all offshore casinos to the planned integrated entertainment zone in Mopa. Last year in August, Parrikar reiterated the government’s plans to go ahead with the entertainment zone and plans to enforce a casino policy and the Gaming Commission. As per the latest updates, the casino policy is still under consideration.
The Mopa Airport Project
Planned as a Greenfield Airport, the Mopa International Airport located in North Goa will be the state’s second airport and is being developed in conjunction with GMR Goa International Airport Limited (GGIAL). The first phase of the project was slated to be ready by 2020 but is now expected to go live in 2021 having run into environmental clearance issues.
The government has earmarked 232 acres of land near the airport for the development of the integrated entertainment zone. Moreover, significant infrastructural costs are on the cards to build a massive complex that will house casinos, hotels, eco, adventure, and wellness resorts.
Clearly, the Goa government is inclining towards a model similar to that followed by other Asian countries like Macau or Singapore that have set up integrated zones for casinos with other tourist facilities thrown in.
While all of this is good news for the casino industry, the restriction of allowing only airline passengers inside casinos could have a significant impact on revenue.