No table games; to start with, only 'electronic' offshore casinos

| 10 April 1998 23:11 IST

The hide and seek is now over, after a long wait of two-years. Probably first of its kind in the country, the Goa government has now permitted two offshore casinos.

Tourists coming through sea from Bombay would have a taste of it, thanks to Frank Shipping, running a daily passenger service between Mumbai and Goa. The Renaissance would actually anchor a vessel off Goan coast, exclusively meant for a casino.

But no table games, please, states the official permission. You can play roulette and poker games, but only electronic ones, besides the slot machines.

Probably, it is a backdoor game of the Congress government, in an attempt to counter the stiff opposition to any kind of casino in the state.

The electronic slot machines, roulette and poker games is not a novelty in Goa any more. It is running in most of the five star hotels here since '92, thanks to the amendment to the Goa Gambling Act.

But foreigners hate it and call it a "kidz game". It is more popular among the locals, the high class youth and even the young politicians. One wonders whether same electronic games would attract the foreigners now on board vessels.

The state government's plans to upgrade its tourism policy with high class foreign tourists demanded casinos. The gambling act, which is meant to prohibit all kind of gambling, was amended for the second time in four years, allowing offshore casinos.

But stiff opposition from local opposition parties as well as environmental groups compelled the authorities to think otherwise. Chief minister Pratapsing Rane, who felt it was necessary to attract high class foreign tourists, dropped the idea later on stating that these foreigners do not prefer it.

"If people think that it is detrimental to the Goan society in long term, then we do not want to impose it for our short term gains", announced the Congress chief minister.

However, mounting pressure from the five star hotel lobby appears to have compelled him to think short. Making a volte face on his 'ideological' stance, he has permitted casinos, while the tourism master plan for high class tourism is still awaited.

The licence fee here is only Rs 10,000, besides a deposit of Rs 10 lakh. But the amendment to the act is to charge Rs one crore annually towards the licence fees while it should be at least one km away from the shore.

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