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Moving casinos to land, appointing a Gaming Commissioner, and banning locals from casinos have been long-pending promises that the Goa government had made. In a sudden move last week, Chief Minister of Goa Pramod Sawant announced that Goa locals would be banned from entering casinos starting February 1. He also declared that the Commercial Tax Commissioner would act at the state’s Gaming Commissioner.
Not surprisingly, the move evoked sharp criticism from the opposition, and according to reports, there’s disagreement on the issue in the inner circles of the governing party as well. In fact, the State Ports Minister Michael Lobo himself has expressed reservations to the move, stating that Goans should be allowed to enter the casinos.
On the other hand, Congress President Girish Chodankar has alleged that the move of appointing a Gaming Commissioner is a sham.
While reactions have poured in, the casino sector in the coastal state continues to remain in a state of limbo. The ban has been brought into force without a Casino Policy in place, and there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the execution of the ban. Rules have not been modified as yet, and the administrative setup is unclear on the steps to be taken in case locals are found inside the casinos.
BJP – Facing Internal Opposition
CM Sawant’s announcement on the ban of Goans from entering casinos hasn’t gone down well with several weighty elements in the BJP. Party MLA from Calungate and Ports Minister Michael Lobo has openly opposed the move. On Saturday, Lobo said that there’s a difference between entry and gaming, and locals cannot be stopped from entering casinos.
“There are other things in casinos besides gaming. There is music, entertainment, food, etc. Somebody will challenge this in court,” Lobo said. He pointed out, “Nepal and Sri Lanka have banned their citizens from gambling in casinos. Goans are Indian nationals, so you should not allow all Indians entry while not allowing Goans. This needs to be debated at the highest levels.”
Lobo said that CM Parrikar had amended the law for banning locals amid complaints that gambling had ruined people financially. “Because of this, Parrikar had amended the law. This government is implementing the new law.”
The Opposition’s Stand
The major opposition party in Goa, the Congress, has, in the past, vociferously demanded to move the casinos out of River Mandovi, where they’re currently operational onboard floating vessels. Reacting to CM Sawant’s announcement, State Congress President Girish Chodankar said that the appointment of the Tax Commissioner as the Gaming Commission was a sham.
Addressing a press conference in Panjim on Saturday, Chodankar pointed out that the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act had already been amended in 2012 to ensure the appointment of a Gaming Commissioner, but nothing was done for eight years. “The BJP should now answer why despite amending the law in 2012, no rules were notified to allow for the appointment of the Commissioner or for the official’s functioning,” Chodankar rued.
Accusing the ruling party of corruption, Chodankar alleged that the BJP under late CM Manohar Parrikar’s stewardship had accepted ₹100 Crores from the casino industry to delay the appointment of the Gaming Commissioner. The recent appointment of the Gaming Commissioner was also an eyewash, he charged.
Chodankar added, “With the rules not in place, the appointment of the Gaming Commissioner is just a means to extract more money from casino owners as the government knows that if you put a little pressure on the casinos, the operators will come running with bags.”
“Soon, someone will file a petition in the courts, and get a stay on the ban on Goans, and this will give the state government an excuse not to frame the rules for the gaming commissioner.”
A Poorly Planned Move?
The Goa Public Gambling (Amendment) Act 2012 envisages that tourists will require a permit to enter casinos. The government of Goa has banned locals from entering casinos without notifying the rules for the Gaming Commissioner.
The rules will cover the operational details that include – process, system, and framework for issuing the permit, documentation required from the tourist, fee to be collected, receipt and challan books, and fine for entering casinos without a permit, among other things. However, since the rules for the same have not been notified yet, according to experts, this could mean that legally, even tourists may not be able to enter the casinos.
A senior official is reported to have told Times of India, “When the lacunae is on the part of the state government, how can action be taken against tourists. Till date nothing has been put in place, including notification of the rules for the Act.”
According to reports, the State Home Department is now rushing to ensure that the norms for implementing the Act are put into place fast. “We will notify rules for the Gaming Commissioner by Saturday,” the official added, on the condition of anonymity.
The department is apparently completing the official paperwork required for the appointment of the Commercial Tax Commissioner as the Gaming Commissioner. The Gaming Commissioner will also have to map the process for issuing tourist permits across the state for casino entry, and a team of government officials will have to be designated to oversee this.
Though the government has finally stepped up to follow through on its long-standing promise, the fact that these crucial steps were not well planned earlier may eventually result in huge revenue loss not only for casinos but also for the government.
Amidst the ongoing political and administrative cacophony, voices of dissent against offshore casinos seem to be growing stronger. Locals of Pernem recently held a meeting where they opposed the setting up of casinos in the Pernem village while rejecting a notification for urbanization.