Friday 12 April 2024

News Analysed, Opinions Expressed

Casinos to go High and Dry?


Mr Vijai Sardessai needs to study how casinos have affected another former Portuguese colony, Macau, before he makes any sweeping recommendations to relocate them on land, says ASHWIN TOMBAT

Those who agitate against casinos in Goa don't impress me much. The reason is that they direct their anger exclusively against those ships in the Mandovi River, and don't bother about other forms of gambling.

Quite apart from the land-based slot machine casinos, there's the ubiquitous 'Matka', whose agents are found at every street corner in Goa's cities. It is the 'aam aadmi' that plays matka. I have seen a beach lifeguard, who then earned around Rs8,000 per month, place a Rs400 bet on matka. That amount may seem small for some, but for him it was more than a day's wage.

But beyond paying lip service, the moral majority anti-casino brigade doesn't go out of its way to fight the scourge of matka. Their bile is reserved for the casinos. It's almost as if the ruination of the rich stirs their angst more than the pauperisation of the poor.

That is why Goa Town and Country Planning Minister Vijai Sardesai's suggestion that the off-shore casinos currently anchored in the Mandovi river here could be relocated to land, is so interesting. For one thing, it will obliquely and perversely fulfil the BJP government's most broken promise: to shift the off-shore casinos from the Mandovi river.

Second, it will set to rest the huge hypocrisy of having boats parked just a few metres from the riverbank. Yes, the allegedly offshore casino ship Deltin JAQK is anchored less than 50 metres from the Fisheries Jetty.

Ironically, gambling in Goa is allowed under The Goa Public Gambling Act, 1976, which is meant to prevent all kinds of gambling. It was first amended in 1992, when Ponda MLA Ravi Naik was the Chief Minister, to allow "any game of electronic amusement/slot machines in five star hotels".

Offshore casinos were allowed under a further amendment by Poriem MLA Pratapsingh Rane's government, in 1996. I was personally present in the press gallery when this amendment was passed. Among those who passionately argued against it were Margao MLA Digambar Kamat and then Santa Cruz MLA Victoria Fernandes.

Mr Rane promised on the floor of the Assembly that a minimum distance from shore for casino ships would be included in the amendment. He broke his promise.

Broken promises seem to be a recurring theme in the casino saga. Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar has also repeatedly broken his promise; to move the casino ships out of the Mandovi river.

At present, there is a huge controversy over the re-introduction of a sixth casino ship into the Mandovi River. It was bought from The Leela hotel by former Haryana minister Gopal Kanda. He was later jailed for allegedly abetting the suicide of Geetika Sharma, a former air hostess (and, apparently, his mistress) with the shortlived MDLR Airlines which Kanda owned. The casino ship lay idle for years, before it was towed away.

To restore his casino license, the Goa government asked Mr Kanda's company — Golden Globe Hotels Pvt Ltd — to pay all the arrears owed for his casino ship, which came to almost Rs50 crore. Mr Kanda paid the money. But having pocketed the money, the government began to delay. Mr Kanda went to the High Court, which ordered that the government cannot break its promise after payment has been made in full.

If the government is unable to move the casino ships out of the Mandovi River, feels Mr Vijai Sardessai, why not get them on the land? He asks: if Sikkim can allow casinos on land why can't Goa do it? Me Sardessai feels he is being "practical", as moving the casinos into the deep sea "may not be feasible".

I have little sympathy for the rich who squander their substantial savings in these dens of vice. But they have intense additional adverse impacts (or side effects) on the public in the areas in which they operate. Add to that their potential misuse for large scale money laundering and, possibly, even terrorist funding.

Mr Sardessai needs to study how casinos have affected another former Portuguese colony, Macau, before he makes any such sweeping recommendations.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.


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