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The political hullabaloo in Goa over relocation and licensing of casinos continued this week as the state Congress made fresh demands from the ruling BJP government, calling for the need to conduct auctions for issuing casino licenses, instead of granting them to operators.
According to a recent Times of India report, Goa Pradesh Congress Committee president Girish Chodankar brought the casino licensing issue to the fore stating that the government was losing revenue by not holding an auction for the licenses.
“The license should be auctioned because that is the policy adopted across the country,” Chodankar said. “Coal blocks, mining licenses, and 2G spectrum are auctioned, so why not auction casino licenses too?” Chodankar has also recently alleged that revenue leaks from the casino industry were causing the government loss of ₹4,000 to ₹5,000 Crores per year.
Right along the continuing standoff over the relocation of casinos, licensing of casinos has been a big focal point for the state’s thriving casino industry.
Goa’s casinos buckled under the pressure of a monumental hike in the licensing renewal fees and various other fees charged annually from them. After the fee hike, two onshore casinos, The Crown that ran from Hotel Crown and The Carnival that was functioning at Marriott Hotel, were forced to shut down in April.
Following this, the state government pulled down the shutters of Casino Strike running at Grand Hyatt Hotel in May, after it failed to pay the revised license fees.
The fee hike most certainly saw the smaller players in the gaming industry forced out of business, while Delta Corp that is the only BSE-listed Indian gaming company posted healthy gains over the first two financial quarters of the current fiscal year.
With the licensing structure having witnessed such a big revamp, the Congress demand for auctioning of casino licenses could throw the existing casinos off-balance, at least in the short-term.
The Manohar Parrikar–led state government has assured the introduction of a draft Goa Public Gambling Restriction Bill outlining the casino policy during the winter session of the state legislative assembly. The bill was likely to include provisions for creating a gambling and entertainment zone near the under-construction Mopa International Airport and establishment of a licensing structure that would give 15-year licenses to casinos. All the six existing offshore casinos would have to be relocated if the policy comes through via the bill.
In September 2017, offshore casinos operating from river Mandovi in Goa were given a six-month-long extension by the state government to continue in their present locations while the government was chalking out the much-awaited casino policy. The permission was extended once again for six months and then in September-end, the government announced yet another six-month extension to these offshore casinos.
The Congress which is the main opposition party in Goa has vociferously opposed the efforts by the government to create a designated gaming area outside the airport.
“This Bill which is in the offing is a big scam,” Chodankar alleged, talking about the impending Bill. He added that the state government was already losing ₹4,000- ₹5,000 Crores due to lack of regulation and monitoring of casino fees.
“There is 4 Lakh square-meter near Mopa Airport which will serve as the designated gaming area, and the Mopa PDA will approve the projects. This is a scam! If the government auctions the land, they can get revenue,” he alleged.
The present political standoff over licensing and relocation of casinos is likely to find its way to the winter session of the legislative assembly when the Goa Public Gambling Restriction Bill will be tabled.
Even as there are just six offshore casinos operating from vessels anchored on River Mandovi, the huge crowds drawn to these vessels and the alleged pollution of the river waters has invited local ire in the past, and this is another issue that could affect the impending decisions over their location.
Just a few days back, State Agriculture minister Vijai Sardesai talked of the possibility of a casino strip along the coastline in Panjim, modeled like the one developed on Hong-Kong harbor.
The Congress has been quick to oppose the government’s stance on casinos and its plans for their relocation. Clearly, unless the ruling BJP and Congress can arrive at a consensus over the same, survival and future of casinos in Goa will continue to remain underlined with uncertainty.