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In the volatile political landscape of Goa, the state’s growing casino sector has long been an eyesore for social activist groups and a plank on which election campaigns have been run in the past. Back in June when Chief Minister Pramod Sawant admitted that casinos were vital for tourism, it seemed that the casino industry finally had a loud voice of support in the political quarters. In what comes as a big jolt for casino operators, CM Samant has now reiterated that very soon, locals will be barred from entering the casinos.
The Chief Minister made this statement on the floor of the state legislative assembly on Wednesday. Ironically, the same day he had divulged in the assembly that the government has earned ₹411 Crores in revenue through offshore and onshore casinos during the financial year 2018-19.
“I am of the opinion that Goans should not be allowed in casinos. The Goa Gambling Policy makes it clear that casinos are allowed only for tourism purpose and not for Goans to visit,” CM Sawant said.
Though the Chief Minister admitted that casinos are essential for the growth of the tourism industry since many people fly to Goa only to gamble, he left no doubt that the government intended to go ahead with the provisions of the Goa Gambling Policy. “We have to sit and fix a date after which Goans will not be allowed to enter casinos. They would be barred from entering offshore and onshore casinos,” he said.
Banning Locals – An Old Political Ruse?
Past precedents have shown that the two Indian states that allow casino gambling legally, i.e., Sikkim and Goa have from time to time considered prohibiting locals from entering the casinos. Back in 2016, the Sikkim government had implemented a blanket ban on locals from casinos and hiked the entry fee for patrons visiting the two casinos that were operating in Gangtok then.
The Goa CM’s recent statement reiterates the commitment that his predecessor, the Late CM Manohar Parrikar had made while unveiling the details of the draft casino policy and government’s plans to set up a Gaming Commission.
After BJP came to power in 2012, the then CM Parrikar had declared that casinos were a nuisance and that he planned to ban Goans from entering casinos. Though Parrikar realized that the revenue from casinos contributed significantly to the state’s coffers and toned down his stand, he incorporated the Goa Gaming Act in 2014 that proposed a ban on locals from entering casinos.
The next year, the Parrikar-led government announced that it was drafting a new Casino Policy and would be appointing a Gaming Commissioner for regulating the sector. After returning to the chair in March 2017, Parrikar reassured that entry of locals inside casinos would be prohibited. Last year in August, he told the State Legislative Assembly that offshore casinos would be shifted to land and the policy on the same was coming up soon.
CM Sawant’s announcement comes days after he had assured that the Mopa Airport project in North Goa will have casinos though only airline passengers would be allowed. The government has long been under pressure from certain public organizations and political leaders to ban locals from the casinos under the premise that gambling was against the Goan culture.
However, a size customer base of casinos in Goa comprises of locals, and if they are banned from entering, the casinos will take a hard fall as far as profits are concerned. Such a move also seems a tall order since prohibiting anyone from entering a commercial set-up like a casino can amount to curtailing their constitutional right to freedom of movement.
If the current BJP government does go ahead with its promise, it would essentially mean that Goans will not be able to play at casinos either in Mopa or in the offshore casinos that may be relocated to land later. For now, the policy remains under consideration with no deadline given by the Goa government for implementation of the proposed ban.