Goa’s chief minister, Manohar Parrikar, has informed the state’s legislative assembly that the five casinos which currently operate on the Mandovi River will be moved onshore to a new entertainment zone, which the local press has already characterised as“a mini Las Vegas”.
Like a scene from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, Goa’s floating casinos could soon be rolling off the Mandovi river and onto dry land, however as in the film, it looks set to be an uphill climb for operators.
On 24 July, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar informed the state legislative assembly that the five shipboard casinos currently offering gambling services on the Mandovi river will all be moved to a land-based “special entertainment zone” within the next three years.
According to media reports the municipalities of Curchorem, Canacona and Mopa are already bidding to host the new venues. Significantly, Parrikar has also stated that his government plans to introduce legal provisions to bar Goans from entering casinos, via an amendment to the 2012 Prevention of Gambling Act, while the new legislation will also impose a hard cap on the number of existing floating casinos at five.
“The Act will have a power to ensure that no Goan can visit casinos. The government will have powers to limit casinos in a particular area. Weare capping it, under this Act, at five,” Parrikar said, during a one-and-a-half-hour-long address in the ongoing monsoon session.
A sixth casino vessel, the MV Lucky 7, ran aground in July while being towed to its permanent mooring point on the Mandovi. Efforts are still being made to dislodge the ship-owned by Global Globe Hotels Pvt. Ltd – from the sandbar on which it is resting, but Parrikar vowed that the ship will “never enter the Mandovi” and “can go somewhere else and can operate only if people of the area don’t have a problem.”
The move marks a u-turn by the government on a commitment made to the High Court of Bombay to permit the sixth casino to operate on the river Mandovi. In March, the government reluctantly approved the ship’s launch only after the court ordered the state to stop stalling.
Based on this statement the future now looks uncertain for MV Lucky 7 – which was to replace the Casino Maharaja – given that successive governments have been trying for years now to find an alternate waterway for the casinos to occupy.
“We are also ensuring that in three years’ time, the casinos in the river, on a vessel, will cease to exist. There will be amendment to the act in the next assembly session, where the vessel portion will be removed at a particular point,” Parrikar stated.
Ironically, just a few days prior to the announcement, Parrikar defended the gaming industry as having boosted government tax coffers and the local economy while having had no negative impact on local crime rates.
On 19 July, in a written reply to a question regarding what effect these casinos may have had on local crime, Parrikar cited data showing that the state’s crime rate had fallen for three consecutive years, from 4,467 cases in 2014 to 2,693 in 2016.
Over the same period, Parrikar noted that the state’s share of casino revenue had more than doubled, from INR78.6 crore ($12.2m) during the 2014-15 fiscal year, to INR86 crore in 2015-16, before substantially rising to INR162 crore ($25.2m) in 2016-17.
Earlier in the month, Agriculture minister, Vijai Sardesai, had already begun to lobby for the casinos on the Mandovi river to be moved onshore.