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Just as news of Delta Corp. investing ₹69.70 Crores ($10 Million) in Essel Group’s Jalesh Cruises Mauritius Ltd (JCML) came through, the Subhash Chandra-owned company was yet again in the headlines. On March 13, the state government of Goa allowed a seventh offshore ship, Essel Group’s ‘Big Daddy,’ into the River Mandovi that resulted in political turmoil.
‘Big Daddy’ sudden presence in the Mandovi led State Ports Minister Jayesh Salgaonkar to conduct an impromptu inquiry to find out why the ship was allowed to enter the river in such haste.
“I will hold a meeting to look into the haste in bringing the offshore casino vessel while the election code is already in force. They could have waited to get proper permission before entering the river,” Salgaonkar stated.
It has been speculated that the ‘Big Daddy’ may be an updated version of the Gopal Kanda’s Golden Globe Hotels Private Limited (GGHPL) owned MV Lucky Seven that had got stuck in a sandbar at Miramar beach in 2017.
‘Big Daddy’ Very Likely an Upgrade of the GGHPL-Owned MV Lucky Seven
In the present political scenario, with the Lok Sabha elections looming overhead, the probability of a new ship obtaining license to enter Goan waters is highly unlikely. Since the new ship has appeared just before the impending elections, it is most likely an upgrade of the MV Lucky Seven. Notably, even the vessel name is the same as the poker room operated by the company onboard Casino Maharaja.
Rumors of this replacement ship have been doing the rounds in the poker circuit for several months now; however, the timing of this new ship entering Goa just before the elections raises many questions.
GGHPL & Essel Group Strike a Deal Leading to the Take Over of Casino Maharaja
It is worthwhile here to note the key events that have taken place to understand why the MV Lucky Seven needed to be upgraded and how the deal between GGHPL and the Essel Group came about.
Haryana politician Gopal Kanda‘s GGHPL ‘s casino licence had expired back in September 2016 resulting in the company having to shell out ₹46 crores in fines to renew the license. At the time of the license expiration, GGHPL was in the process of launching its sixth offshore casino on the MV Lucky Seven vessel. But all plans went down the drain when MV Lucky Seven got stuck at a sandbar in Miramar beach and needed extensive repairs, thereby delaying the launch.
To expedite the process, GGHPL agreed to a deal with Essel Group to take over Casino Maharaja (MV San Domino vessel) on lease for a year and accordingly, the casino commenced operations in December 2017. In the meantime, the MV Lucky Seven was salvaged and towed to the Mormugao Port Trust and was eventually dry docked in Cochin.
It is believed that this latest three-decker vessel, ‘Big Daddy,’ has acquired prior permissions like the Certificate of Registry and Certificate of Survey that includes fitness NOC under the Inland Vessels Act from the state government. Based on these certifications the ship was allowed to enter the River Mandovi and also move freely within the inland waters of Goa.
The GGHPL has claimed that ‘Big Daddy’ is its second ship to obtain permission to operate in River Mandovi and that the company had previously paid a considerable amount of money to the government towards the interest and penalty charges for anchoring its previous vessel in Mandovi from 2011-16. The ship was not in operation during this period. Over a year ago, the company also paid fees for the years 2017-21.
Is ‘Big Daddy’ a threat to Deltin Royale?
Whether it is a new casino or an upgrade, there is no doubt that ‘Big Daddy’ can certainly give Delta Corp.’s Casino Deltin Royale a run for its money. Up until now, the Adda52Live poker room aboard the Deltin Royale was the go-to destination and the only decent venue that could host some of the bigger domestic live poker tournaments in Goa. Starting with hosting several editions of the Deltin Poker Tournament (DPT) to the first and second editions of World Poker Tour (WPT) India, Deltin Royale has firmly established itself as India’s best live poker venue. The Baadshah Live Poker Room at Casino Pride is also another hotspot for poker tournaments in Goa. With the bigger and better ‘Big Daddy’ entering the Mandovi, both these casinos may have to deal with a worthy competitor.
Additionally, it is not immediately clear whether the IPC Team that currently operates the Big Daddy poker room onboard Maharaja Casino will be given charge of the new ‘Big Daddy’poker room (if the new vessel will even have one). However, if this new vessel turns out to be an upgrade as is currently being speculated, it is very likely that the popular IPC tournament series will once again come back to Goa after an over 2-year long hiatus.
Why is Congress Angry About Goa’s 7th Offshore Casino?
Since early 2018, the six existing offshore casinos in Goa have been under immense pressure to clear out from the River Mandovi.
In April 2018, the Goa government had issued the first six-month extension to offshore casinos to relocate from River Mandovi and as the expiration date drew near the government extended the extension for another six-month slated to end on March 31, 2019. On March 8, 2019, the government yet again issued another six-month extension, leading to heavy criticism from the Goa Congress.
The BJP-led coalition government’s allowance of a seventh casino – ‘Big Daddy’ – to enter the Mandovi waters, seems to have added insult to injury for the Congress that was already upset about the six-month extension given to the offshore casinos.
Expressing their displeasure, Congress spokesperson Sunil Kawthankar alleged of a possible nexus existing between the Manohar Parrikar-led state government and the casino industry.
“The entry of the seventh offshore casino in Goa’s Mandovi river has proved our point that the casino lobby is running this government and deciding BJP policies. Moreover, the casino lobby itself has become the ‘Big Daddy’ of the BJP,” said Kawthankar.
In the face of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections will the addition of the latest offshore casino vessel spell disaster for the ruling government or work in its favor is yet to be seen.