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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Covid under control, Goa casinos to restart from Monday

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said the state government’s expert committee has opined that casinos, spas, massage parlours can reopen but major events such as the Sunburn music festival have not yet been permitted.

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: September 19, 2021 10:08:20 am
Goa has six offshore casinos on Mandovi river, off state capital Panaji, and about a dozen others run inside leading hotels. (Express photo)

Casinos in Goa are set to open to tourists again from Monday. People who are “either fully vaccinated or those with a RTPCR report should be allowed” into these casinos, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant said on Saturday.

He said the state government’s expert committee has opined that casinos, spas, massage parlours can reopen but major events such as the Sunburn music festival have not yet been permitted.

“The (state government’s) expert committee compared the (Covid-19) positivity rate over the last two-three weeks and it has been under 2 percent. In order to revive economic activity and tourism activity, casinos have been allowed to reopen on Monday with strict SOPs (standard operating procedures),” Sawant said.

Dr Shekhar Salkar, a member of the expert committee, said reopening of casinos, river cruises, massage parlours and spas was recommended in compliance of all Covid-19 safety protocols, and that the government is expected to issue the SOPs for reopening on Sunday.

Goa has six offshore casinos on Mandovi river, off state capital Panaji, and about a dozen others run inside leading hotels. Casinos, which employ thousands of people and generate sizable revenue for the state government, are expected to breathe life into the state’s tourism industry, which has seen only a slight uptick since July.

With the reopening of casinos, allied tourist activities such as hotels, restaurants, taxi services may all see their businesses picking up as peak tourist season sets in next month, industry stakeholders said.

According to sources, the state government’s average annual earning in licence fees from casinos is more than Rs 320 crore — including this, the government earns approximately Rs 1,000 crore in taxes for allied activities such as restaurants, hotels, tourist vehicles, etc.

The offshore casinos on the Mandovi also pay entry fees and local taxes to the Corporation of the City of Panaji and about Rs 25 lakh for licenses to the Excise Department. The Excise Department also earns a consumption duty on every bottle of alcohol consumed in the casinos, sources said.

The casinos that have become an integral part of tourism in Goa, drawing both domestic and international tourists.

Shrinivas Nayak, director, Majestic Pride Group, which operates the Majestic Pride Casino on the Mandovi , said: “It has been a very hard time. In the first lockdown, we were shut for about seven months. This time, it was for about four months and 20 days. We (Majestic Pride Casino) have nearly 2,500 employees and we could not have laid them off. That is not human. We had no revenue but we still had to bear 70-80 percent of our expenses. The lockdown was uncertain and it kept extending week by week.”

He said, “The government was losing revenue in terms of GST and license fees. This is a big percentage of revenue for a small state. On average, casinos provide Rs 50 crore to Rs 80 crore per month revenue to the state government in direct revenue, the Centre gets the same revenue, and there is also indirect revenue that comes from hotel occupancy, which will increase their GST.”

Stating that things have started to move in the right direction, Travel and Tourism Association of Goa president Nilesh Shah said, “With casinos reopening, almost 14,000 people working in the industry will get a boost. In addition, the hotel industry in Panaji and in North Goa will also get a boost. Right now their occupancy is about 20-30 percent.”

On Saturday, there were 771 active Covid-19 cases in Goa and two deaths were reported. The test positivity rate in the state on Saturday was 2.18 percent.

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