Not Casinos. In Goa, Matka is the Real Problem

By Ashwin Tombat
25 November 2019 17:13 IST

NGOs focussed on opposing casinos in Goa because they are a ‘social evil’ need to pay careful attention to a scientific study conducted recently by an internationally renowned non-governmental organisation (NGO) specialising in mental health that is based in Goa.

The first-of-its-kind comprehensive study on the prevalence of gambling conducted by the NGO, Sangath (pronounced Saangaat), reveals that nearly half of men in Goa engage in some form of gambling. However, it is not the glitzy casinos that they frequent, but the neighbourhood Matka bookie.

The study, published recently by the peer-reviewed Asian Journal of Psychiatry, was based on a survey among 1,514 men. The sample was based on electoral rolls, and participants were selected at random from eligible households.

It reveals that lotteries and Matka – a banned but highly popular form of gambling in Maharashtra and Goa – are the most popular forms of gambling among Goa’s men.

Sangath’s study showed that the presence of off-shore and land-based casinos in the state, both of which permit ‘legal’ gambling, appears to have little or no impact on the local population. Only 1.1 per cent of survey respondents said that they visited casinos at least once a month.

However, the study indicated that 49.9 per cent of participants reported that they had engaged in gambling at least once in their lifetime. As many as 45.4 per cent reported gambling recently, or in the past 12 months.

The study found that “lifetime and current gambling are associated with work-related problems, interpersonal violence, tobacco use and alcohol use disorders; and additionally, current gambling is associated with rural residence”.

The most common form of gambling was the lottery, at 67.8 per cent. But the highest frequency of gambling activity was Matka. Approximately 39.5 per cent of the participants said that they engaged in Matka gambling at least once to thrice a week. Other forms of gambling were card and dice games, as well as betting on sports matches like cricket, football and kabaddi. Casinos came last.

Dr Abhijit Nadkarni of Sangath, who mentored the study, issued a disclaimer: “If 50 per cent of men in Goa like gambling it doesn’t mean that all of them are problematic gamblers,” he said. However, it is well known that gambling behaviours mimic other addictions like drinking, smoking and drugs.

It is also well established the prevalence of gambling is strongly related to access to the activity. Some forms of gambling are legal in Goa. This includes the state-run lotteries and privately-run off-shore and land-based casinos.

The lotteries come under the Directorate of Small Savings and Lotteries in Goa and its revenue is channelled to social welfare causes in the state. The casinos, says the government, boost Goa’s tourism industry. Considering that the 15 operational casinos get around 15,000 visitors every day, this claim seems credible.

Everyone’s focus seems to be on casinos. Opposition parties and NGOs constantly campaign that they should be banned. The government has been promising for years that it will enact legislation to prevent Goans from entering casinos. But, considering that just over 1 per cent of Goan men actually visit casinos, are they worth all the fuss?

What is remarkable is the ease of access to Matka, which seems to go completely under the radar. Casinos cost between Rs2,000 to Rs3,500 just for entry. Matka, on the other hand, is accessible to a wide socio-demographic, including the lowest economic strata of society.

Money put into Matka diverts vital resources, making an adverse impact on household, education and health spending.

There is an urgent need to establish a greater understanding of the short and long-term effects of gambling, and to develop mechanisms for prevention and treatment programmes. But equally important is for the authorities, opposition parties and anti-gambling NGOs to recognise the real problem. No need to stop opposing casinos; just fight Matka with equal determination.

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

Blogger's Profile

Ashwin Tombat

Ashwin Tombat has been the Editor of Gomantak Times and Herald. Worked as an Associate Editor of national magazine Gentleman in Mumbai, before shifting to Goa. Loves sailing, also participates in Marathons. Has worked as an activist in students's union and trade unions in Maharashtra. Also an artist of Street Theatre during student days.

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