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The gambling industry in India has recently been embroiled in a web of political and legal drama. Following the issues dealing with the offshore casinos in Goa, including the Goa Congress calling for the auctioning of casino licenses, the latest news comes in from the India Cruise Lines Association (INCLA).
The organisation that provides a voice to the cruise shipping community is reported to have petitioned the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) for several concessions and amendments in gaming laws which will help in the growth of the cruise shipping and tourism fields.
In its petition, INCLA has presented certain demands before the PMO and has highlighted the need for reduction in GST rates applicable on supply of goods and services onboard cruise ships. The INCLA has also called for the need for the government to approve tax holidays for the cruise industry and single window clearances and demanded that the existing entertainment and gambling laws be amended.
The current laws, the INCLA pointed out, pose restrictions on gaming, casino operations, entertainment, etc. and are creating many operational roadblocks for the onboard cruise vessels within the territorial waters of India.
The present impact of the existing laws on the cruise industry were aptly voiced by a a cruise line operator who discussed the issue with DNA. “Currently, these services are provided to the cruise passengers while the cruise ship is beyond 12/200 nautical miles from the Indian coastline since these entertainment and gambling laws do not tend to apply beyond 12/200 nautical miles. However, while the cruise ship is within the Indian territory, cruise liners are unable to provide gaming, entertainment and casino services to the passengers and meet their expectations,” the operator stated.
INCLA is promoted by Rajya Sabha MP and Essel Group Chairman Subhash Chandra and was founded in August 2018, with the intention of offering a common platform for future development and progress of cruise shipping industry. Besides INCLA, Chandra’s company, Essel Group is integrally involved in the gaming and lottery arenas and runs state lotteries under the brand name ‘Playwin’.
In 2016, Essel Group had also stepped foot in the world of online poker and launched its new poker website, ‘Pokernation’. But in September 2018, PokerNation decided to close its site after parting ways with its international software provider Microgaming Network.
In the words of INCLA convenor Jurgen Bailom, “India is in a similar position as China was some years ago and so was Brazil; it is the domestic cruise market that needs to be developed for the industry to grow. The order of the day is to come together as an association and take quick steps to develop the market in India since globally, cruising is a $51 Billion net profit industry. India has the potential to reach $20 Billion net profit cruise industry. However, currently, India is not among the top 10 global cruise markets.”
Ratna Chadha, Chairperson, INCLA said, “India is the only country that allows multiple destinations within a country. This is a unique position, and we are wasting the opportunity. The number of ships making a port of call in India is hardly 40, and worrisome. A nation like Croatia with a population of 48,000 residents has 400 ships making port of calls.”
However, this is not the first time that the INCLA has approached the government with such demands. Back in August 2018, the organization had presented a whitepaper to the Union Minister for Shipping, Road Transport, Highways, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, Nitin Gadkari. The central government has also been asked to change the existing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policy to allow foreign investment in casinos on cruise vessels.
Whether the demands made by the INCLA will be considered by the PMO remains to be seen.