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Meghalaya Government Backtracks on Casino Plans After Facing Harsh Opposition From Church & Political Parties

Meghalaya Government Backtracks on Casino Plans After Facing Harsh Opposition From Church & Political Parties
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  • Namita Ghosh September 20, 2022
  • 2 Minutes Read

Meghalaya government’s plans to boost tourism in the state by allowing casinos in select locations are facing harsh opposition! Days after the state law minister James Sangma reiterated before the state assembly that three casino licenses had been issued, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma announced that his government had decided to hold up casino plans for the time being.

CM Sangma’s assurance was insufficient since the Joint Action Committee Against Casinos (JACAC) announced a public meeting in Nongpoh on September 23 to decide its next move. The JACAC has charged the government with not withdrawing the temporary casino licenses that have been granted despite the CM’s assurance on the matter.

To make matters worse for the ruling party, Trinamool Congress MLA George B Lyngdoh widened the issue beyond casinos by seeking clarification from the government on the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021. Lyngdoh warned that the new legislation would promote online gaming in the state and severely impact citizens.

While addressing a party meeting on September 15, CM Conrad Sangma confirmed that all processes for setting up casinos in the state had been halted in the face of opposition from church leaders and reps of different social organizations. He said: “With people expressing concern over the establishment of casinos, we have put a stop to any further proceedings in this aspect. Let me assure everyone that without taking people into confidence, there is no question of further movement on this line.”

He explained, “We have given instructions to stop any further process, but the processes that happened before that order was given, those processes are there. Hence the decision we have made and the communication we have made to everybody – we are not going to move any further than where we were before the debate started and before we met the NGOs and the Church leaders. Certain processes have already taken place, and those are the process that was mentioned in the house that day to give three provisional licenses. Provisional means it’s a temporary license that was given with the condition that within six months or eight months, the operations have to start.”

Replying to the demand to cancel the provisional casino licenses already issued, CM Sangma clarified that the licenses would “lapse automatically” if the operators don’t start the process of establishing the casinos before they expire. The CM had announced in the assembly last Monday that the three licenses would lapse on September 29.

Sangma discounted the possibility of repealing the Meghayala Regulation of Gaming Act and Rules, 2021, since the plan was to regulate the existing gaming parlors and generate revenue for the state. Confirming as much, he said: “There is no question of repealing the Act. We have concerns about online gambling. Also, jackpot parlours have not been regulated for the last 25 years.”

 

TMC Opposes Gaming Regulation

The opposition party, TMC, has sought clarification from the state government on the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021. TMC’s MLA from Umroi, George B Lyngdohm, came out with a statement asserting that the party believes the legislation in question will have a severe impact on the people, over and beyond the issue of casinos.

George B Lyngdohm
George B Lyngdohm

 

Lyngdoh said that the Act is not limited to casinos only, as it promotes online gaming. He added that legalizing various forms of online gaming would impact sports like cricket and football in the state. “It will have wide-ranging implications on our youths as it will be impossible for the government to track the citizens accessing online gaming and betting.”

Last Monday, Lyngdoh raised a call-attention motion before the state assembly floor on the issue. During the session, he drew attention to a report published in a local daily that reported how several organizations had formed a Joint Action Committee (JAC) to oppose gambling and casinos.

Responding to Lyngdoh’s call, state Law Minister James Sangma told the House that the government had issued temporary casino licenses to only three applicants. In contrast, many more had applied for the same. He further added that the government had laid down stringent provisions while framing the Act.

Sangma also drew parallels with Goa and Sikkim, which have boosted their tourism and revenue income by legalizing casinos while banning locals from all such gambling centers. He said, “These states are presently reaping the benefits that the tourism sector and legalized gaming has brought in terms of investment, job creation, and overall economic development.”

 

More Voices of Dissent

Here are some statements made in the state over the past week on the issue:

> During the assembly session on Monday, September 12, the Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) MLA Adelbert Nongrum tabled a bill seeking to repeal the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021. Even though the bill was turned down via a voice note, Nongrum urged the government to rethink the issue seriously. He pointed out that the moral integrity of the state was in danger, and the government needed to decide which was more critical, revenue or the people.

> On Tuesday, September 13, The Hynniewtrep Youth Council (HYC) vice president Rhembor G Saibon issued a statement demanding that the state government consult all stakeholders before implementing the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021. He said the government should withdraw the temporary licenses issued to any person for establishing a casino in the Ri Bhoi district.

“We demand that the State Government consult all the stakeholders before implementing the Act in totality and, in the meantime, withdraw the temporary license(s) issued to any person(s)… We are of the opinion that these activities will completely destroy the lives of young and vulnerable men and women as well as their families, irrespective of which community they belong to or belief or faith they are professing.”

> CM Conrad Sangma’s own advisor Lambor Malngiang has also advocated that the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021, should be revoked, and the government should cancel all casino licenses.

> Meghalaya assembly speaker, the United Democratic Party (UDP) chief Metbah Lyngdoh recently wrote to CM Conrad Sangma asking him to review his decision to permit casinos in the state. Lyngdoh pointed at the widespread public dissent on the issue.

The JACAC has announced it will hold a public meeting in Nongpoh on September 23 to decide on its next move on the issue. JACAC Secretary Ferdynald Kharkamni reportedly told local media that the committee is upset over the government’s decision to issue the three casino licenses.

 

Meghalaya Govt`s Struggle to Legalize Casinos

The Meghalaya government was mulling permitting licensed casinos in the state as early as 2019. In January 2021, the state approved the ordinance to regulate online gaming, becoming the third state after Nagaland and Sikkim to officially permit legal online gaming.

On April 26, 2022, the government granted provisional licenses to three operators, albeit clarifying that gambling was only for tourists and visitors and not locals.

After news broke out that the government had issued licenses for casinos, both the BJP, which is part of the ruling coalition in the state, and the TMC opposed the move.

Different political and social organizations, including the Meghalaya United Christian Forum (MUCF), voiced apprehension over the prospect of casinos being set up. Congress also came out with a statement in August, slamming the government for reportedly inviting tenders to set up a casino at Khanapara.

Under mounting pressure, state Deputy Chief Minister Prestone Tynsong announced in August-end that the government had decided against establishing casinos in the state.

The latest development in Meghalaya on the gaming front indicates that the government has taken a step back as far as allowing casinos is concerned but remains firm on bringing in a regulated gaming regime.

With TMC and other factions vehemently opposing the legislation, the plans to regulate casinos or online gaming will not be smooth for the Meghalaya government.

This is a developing story. Keep following PokerGuru for all the latest updates!

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