The Goan government has been ordered to activate a dormant sixth offshore casino licence following a court defeat, but in the wake of a hung parliament after elections this March, what does the future hold for the casinos on the Mandovi river?
It’s been far from plain sailing for Goa’s sixth floating casino, however following a high court ruling Casino Maharaja is finally ready to get rolling on the river, at least until the end of the month.
Despite winning an outright majority in the last local elections of 2012 on the back of a promise to close all of the state’s floating and landbased casinos, the Bharatiya Janata Party has been forced to concede defeat and grant the licence to local operator Golden Globe Hotels Private Limited.
However, following the conservative BJP’s March electoral losses to the even more anti-casino centre-left India National Congress party, resulting in a hung house, the future looks far from certain for the floating casinos on the Madovi river.
GGHPL filed a lawsuit against Goa’s government alleging that it had yet to receive its casino licence despite paying Rs.460m (US$6.9m) in outstanding dues and fees to renew its five-year permit last September.
The operator further contended that officials had failed to authorise a change of- use petition for the selected vessel and issue it with the appropriate mooring permissions.
The Mumbai High Court – the nation’s second-highest court – ruled in the GGHPL’s favour in January and ordered the Goan government to make a final decision within a four-week deadline, which expired last month with legal arguments still ongoing.
“The direction of the high court was to decide on the issue of the casino licence as the government has accepted the fees from the casino operator,” said Prabhakar Timble, president of the opposition Goa Forward Party.
“Nowhere, has the court instructed the government to grant the licence.”
Linked with former Haryana minister Gopal Kanda, GGHPL’s casino licence had been inactive since it ceased operations in 2011.
But the company’s tenure as one of Goa’s casino operators could be short-lived; last October rumours circulated suggesting that the company planned to sell its casino business to the Essel Group, owners of the Playwin lottery and gaming brand and online poker site, Poker Nation.
Essel has been trying to launch a Casino Maharaja branded floating casino on the Mandovi since 2009 but was unable to convince the government to issue an additional licence.
The company reportedly has a vessel fully fitted out and ready to commence operations if it can secure the necessary licence.
All six of Goa’s floating casinos are facing a deadline for finding a new home other than the Mandovi river. In March 2016, then chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar gave the casinos one year in which to find a new place to dock.
While at one point the government had four locations shortlisted – Aguada Bay, and Rivers Chapora, Sal and Zuari – so far no solution has been reached, in part due to the uncertainty over the election results.
Additionally, while casinos on the Mandovi river are 800 metres away from a national highway, and thus narrowly escape a recent Supreme Court order which prohibits liquor outlets within 500 metres of state or national highways, this appears not to have deterred the India National Congress in its crusade against the venues.
“Once we form the government, I can assure you we will not renew the excise licences of the offshore casino vessels once they expire on March 31,” stated Girish Chodankar from the India National Congress, speaking to local media prior to this month’s elections.
The Indian National Congress political party has reportedly declared that it would not renew the liquor licences of the six offshore casinos in Goa if it won an outright majority in the small coastal state’s local elections.
“The INC will take appropriate legal remedies to insulate its decision to ban the sale of liquor on offshore casinos from any legal implications,” Chodankar insisted. “We will have to make sure that the casino operators don’t challenge our decision in the court.”