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Uncertainty in Goa’s casino industry has become a common notion. The state government keeps changing its stance – from the casino policy being delayed to the renewal of trade licenses.
In August 2019, the Corporation of City of Panaji (CCP) had declared that it would not be renewing the trade licenses of offshore casinos from 2020 onwards. Mayor Uday Madkaikar had said that CCP corporators would pass a resolution to not renew the trade license of any offshore casinos.
However, five months ago, on March 11, to be precise, Madkaikar softened his stance, stating that the corporation would meet sometime before March 31 to determine whether or not trade licenses of offshore casino vessels will be renewed.
In the latest news, three offshore casinos have approached the CCP, asking for the renewal of their trade licenses. In a radical shift from his earlier statement, Madkaikar recently said that their applications have been kept on hold and that a decision to renew their licenses would be taken later.
While on the surface, this may look like U-turn, in reality, the casino industry plays a vital part in Goa’s economy. There is no denying that Goa is heavily dependent on its tourism industry, and casinos, both on and offshore, play a significant role.
Moreover, since mid-March, the tourism-centric state has suffered a massive setback because of the nationwide lockdown. Though some of the industries in Goa are steadily re-opening, tourism is yet to revive.
Annually, the CCP earns ₹56 Lakhs in trade license fees from the six offshore casinos, anchored on the Mandovi. At present, the state can at least earn around ₹25 Lakhs from the three offshore casinos that have approached it to renew their licenses.
Recently, Casino Pride Director Shrinivas Naik wrote a letter to the state government, requesting the government help mitigate the financial woes of the tourism industry. This included paying the entire EPF and ESIC contribution of all employees from the Labour welfare fund and granting three-year income tax holidays, including Minimum Alternative Tax (MAT), with effect from FY 20-21.
“CCP has kept the applications on hold, but in the current situation, local businessmen and tourist taxi operators had come to us and told us that if casinos are closed down, they would have no business,” said Madkaikar.
All relevant stakeholders will be consulted, he added, but the debate promises to stir passions on this issue once again.
While the possibility of the renewal of trade licenses will be a sliver of good news for the casino industry, with COVID-19 pandemic still at large and casinos not allowed to re-open, the foreseeable future does not look bright.
Cover Image Courtesy: Goa Alerts 24/7