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Explained: The politics and economics of Goa’s river casinos

Last week, the Goa cabinet headed by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant granted a fresh six-month extension to offshore casinos in the Mandovi river off Panaji. Why have the casinos received a fresh extension?

Written by MAYURA JANWALKAR | Panaji |
Updated: February 24, 2021 10:26:08 am
The offshore casinos will be allowed to stay afloat on the Mandovi for six months from April 1. (File Photo)

Last week, the Goa cabinet headed by Chief Minister Pramod Sawant granted a fresh six-month extension to offshore casinos in the Mandovi river off Panaji. Local people in Panaji have complained for years now that the casinos that attract large numbers of tourists, cause traffic congestion on Dayanand Bandodkar Marg, the road running parallel to the riverfront. Tourists are ferried to the six glitzy casinos floating in the Mandovi in boats. Sawant and his predecessors in the CM’s office have been repeatedly criticised for failing to move the casinos out of Panaji.

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Why have the casinos received a fresh extension?

The offshore casinos will be allowed to stay afloat on the Mandovi for six months from April 1. According to government officials, the casinos have been given several six-month extensions since they first came up in Goa about 20 years ago.

The Chief Minister, while announcing the decision, said that the government was yet to identify the location to which the casinos can be moved.

Where can the casinos be shifted out?

Over the years, proposals have been made to move the six casinos to another part of the Mandovi river near the Aguada Jail or to locations on the Zuari river or the Chapora river, about 25 km away from Panaji. None of these options have, however, been found feasible.

Officials say that they could not be certain that locals from the suggested locations would not be opposed to the casinos moving to these parts. Also the stillness of the water would be an important aspect to consider before the casinos are relocated.

How much revenue does the government earn from the casinos?

Apart from the six offshore casinos on the Mandovi, there are about a dozen others that run inside leading hotels. According to government sources, the government earns over Rs 320 crore in licence fees on average from the casinos, and about Rs 1,000 crore in taxes for allied businesses such as restaurants, hotels, tourist vehicles, etc.

The 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 licences to the excise department. The excise department also earns a consumption duty on every bottle of alcohol consumed in the casinos, government sources said.

The casinos that have become an integral part of Goa’s tourism are an important revenue generator for the state, drawing both Indian and international tourists. However, government officials said offshore casinos are far more popular among tourists than the onshore ones.

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Where do the political parties in the state stand on this issue?

Before the Legislative Assembly elections of 2019, Panaji MLA Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate had promised that the casinos would be out of the Mandovi if he was elected. Monserrate was among the 10 Congress MLAs who jumped ship to the BJP after the results were announced in July 2019, leading to the formation of the BJP government in Goa in 2019.

Monserrate has been repeatedly attacked by opposition parties including the Congress and the Goa Forward Party over the “100-day promise” that he made before the elections.

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