At a time when the decision on the possible relocation of Goa’s offshore casinos is still pending before the state cabinet, the Goa government’s proposal to hike the entry fee to these offshore vessels from Rs 700 to Rs 1000 in the state budget suggests that it may allow them to continue their operations, uninterrupted.
Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar was evasive in his reply to The Indian Express on the government’s course of action.
“What’s the hurry, wait till the end of this month, things will be clear after cabinet decision,” he said.
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It was only last September that the Parsekar-led cabinet allowed offshore casinos to continue operations for another seven months, despite angry protests by locals in Panjim and surrounding areas.
Parsekar had then stated that either the casinos will be relocated by March 31 or will be moved to a location suggested by the state government. However, with the self-imposed deadline coming to an end in less than a month, neither of the two seem to happen, allege activists.
Activists, who are against the offshore casinos, had threatened to launch a stir against the government if they do not stick to their earlier commitment.
“The government claims that casinos are needed to generate local employment and it adds as a tourist attraction, but the tall claims are nothing but a farce. On the contrary, their entry has increased the rate of crime, drunken rage and rise of escort services in the area. But the government seems to be indifferent to the local issues and bothered only about minting money,” Sabina Martin of Aam Auraat Aaadmi Against Gambling (AAAAG) said.
In the heart of the state capital across the Mandovi river, four offshore casinos — Motor Vessel (MV) Pride of Goa or Casino Pride, MV Horseshoe (Deltin Royale Casino) and MV Boa Sorte (Casino Pride 2), MV Casino Royale (Deltin JAQK) — have incurred the wrath of the AAAAG activists.
A person close to the casino operators said they had recently scouted an area far off from the river bank. “But on trial, the water was found to be unsteady, it affected the business operations and therefore abandoned,” she said.
AAAAG members alleged that the BJP leadership stood by them only till they had came to power in 2012. “But for the past four years they have been only stalling the matter. Even this time we feel the stalemate will continue,” Martin, a member of the group said.
Parsekar, in a written reply, had told the assembly that just the licensing fee had brought in a windfall of Rs. 27,26,160 to the government from three vessels since 2012.
“Just note that only the licence fee runs up to lakhs, besides, there are taxes, VAT, entry fee and other components which are too huge to be ignored by a state that has been highly affected by the mediocre tourist turnout in recent years and near-dead mining activity,” a government official said, adding that casinos are a major attraction for domestic tourists, especially during weekends which had a footfall of 47.56 lakh this year.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that along with existing players, six more casino operators have applied for licences to run casinos both onshore and offshore in the state, including Vijay Mallya’s M/S UB Infrastructure Projects Limited.