With voters in Goa set to head to the polls on Saturday, the issue of whether to maintain casino gambling is reportedly set to play a major role in determining the makeup of the Indian state’s next government.
According to a report from the Hindustan Times newspaper, a minor change to the law saw Goa legalize slots for its onshore resorts in 1992 before a first floating casino, Delta Corporation Limited’s Deltin Caravela, was licensed in 2002. A further five offshore casino licenses were granted in 2008 and the small state now has 14 land-based and floating casinos despite the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, which won an outright majority in the previous election of 2012, being publicly opposed to gambling.
“In 2012, the Bharatiya Janata Party vowed to close casinos if it formed a government and [Chief Minister For Goa] Manohar Parrikar even led anti-casino demonstrations,” gambling opponent Aires Rodrigues told the newspaper. “But in five years, it hasn’t shut a single casino. More have opened. It is the same with every party.”
For his part, Parsekar has repeatedly stated that his administration is against casinos but has been powerless to shut the Goan venues because they were granted licenses under the previous Indian National Congress-led government.
“These casinos are a gift of licences given by the previous Indian National Congress government,” Parsekar told the newspaper. “A business is set up here. It has followed formalities and obtained a license, can we just kick it out?”
However, in stumping for votes for the February 4 election, both the opposition Indian National Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party have reportedly made at least the partial closure of some of the Goan casinos a major plank of their campaigns despite official figures that suggest the industry last year contributed approximately $19 million to the state’s coffers.
The election manifesto of the Indian National Congress reportedly pledges to immediately revoke the six offshore casino licenses while state party chief Luizinho Faleiro told the newspaper that their land-based counterparts such as Strike Casino inside the Grand Hyatt Goa are to be shuttered “at a later stage.”
Goa and Sikkim are the only two states in India where it is legal to offer casino gambling and the Hindustan Times reported that the Goan industry also claims to provide around 10,000 direct and indirect jobs.
“It is a myth that casinos play a vital role in the economy,” Ashutosh Gupta, spokesperson for the Aam Aadmi Party, told the newspaper while declaring that his research has found that the industry could contribute as few as 2,500 jobs. “Casinos have brought drugs, prostitution and pollution to Goa.”
The Hindustan Times reported that the sector has moreover argued that it helps to attract at least some of the 2.9 million tourists that visit the coastal state of 1.8 million people every year.
“When the election comes around, every party suddenly wants to shut down the casinos,” taxi driver Anand Chauhan told the newspaper. “It is a terrible idea. Tourists only come for three months in winter but gamblers come all year round.”