How to Enforce the Casino Ban?

By Ashwin Tombat
03 February 2020 22:00 IST

On Thursday, the government announced that Goans would not be allowed to gamble in the state’s casinos with effect from 1 February 2020. The person responsible for enforcing this ban was appointed to the post on Friday. GST Commissioner Deepak Bandekar is Goa’s first Gaming Commissioner.  

The law defines a ‘tourist’ as a person who is at least 21 years old, (including pilgrims), who is on a visit to Goa, and is not domiciled or permanently resident in the state, and holds a valid ‘tourist permit’ issued under the Act. Anyone without a valid tourist permit found gambling in a casino must pay a fine that is 10 times the fee for the tourist permit. The Gaming Commissioner has the power to issue ‘tourist permits’, as well as to authorise duly registered persons, agencies or hotels to issue permits.

Speaking to the media persons after the Martyr’s Day function at Panaji’s Azad Maidan on Thursday, Chief Minister Dr Pramod Sawant said that he had assured the Goa Legislative Assembly during the 2018 monsoon session that Goans would be barred from entering off-shore casinos. He said that the Gaming Commissioner has the power to visit offshore casinos at any time of the day or night and seek identity proof from any gambler, to ensure that no Goan has entered.

Not quite yet.

While the Act does say that no person other than a ‘tourist’ can enter any place where gambling is conducted, all that the law requires is carrying of a ‘tourist permit’. Citizens of India are not constitutionally required to carry ‘identity proof’ on them at all times and, therefore, all that the Gaming Commissioner is empowered to check is whether those gambling have valid tourist permits or not.

Until and unless a set of foolproof rules is put in place, this ban is going to be very problematic to implement. What distinguishes ‘domiciled or permanently resident’? ‘Domiciled’ may be clear, since the state issues domicile certificates. But ‘permanently resident’; what’s that? For example, is someone working in Goa on a transferable job with a ‘permanent address’ elsewhere a ‘permanent resident’ of Goa or not? Is an NRI Goan who works in the Gulf – or on a ship for nine months in the year – a ‘permanent resident’ or a ‘tourist’?

Neither Goa nor any other state in India issues identity cards to its residents. Besides, it is not yet clear whether, under the Constitution, Goa can legally differentiate and discriminate against those who are residents of the state and those who are not.

Benaulim NCP MLA Churchill Alemao – who was in the forefront of the move to bring casinos to Goa in the 1990s – has recently been putting pressure on the government to ban Goans from casinos.  In the Assembly, Churchill claimed that Singapore had banned locals from its casinos.

Again, not quite.  

Under an exception made to the Singapore law, it is mandatory for casino operators to impose an entry fee on citizens or permanent residents to enter a casino. The entry fee is presently $150 (Rs7,850) for 24 hours, or $3,000 (Rs1.57 lakh) for an annual membership.

One of the reasons for Goa’s ban is that former Goa BJP President Vinay Tendulkar had in the run up to Lok Sabha elections in May 2019, demanded that off-shore casinos be shut. At the time, CM Pramod Sawant said the government would consider the demand.

But in June 2019, after the elections, Mr Sawant categorically stated that casinos were crucial for Goa’s tourism. “We need to do whatever activities are required to attract tourists to Goa… we can’t close anything overnight,” he said. On Wednesday 7 August 2020, the CM told the Legislative Assembly that the government had collected Rs411 crore in revenue from onshore and offshore casinos in the financial year 2018-19.

If the reason for keeping the casinos going is the revenue they bring to the state, why get into bans that may or may not be legal, and are anyway hard to implement? Why not be smart like Singapore, and impose a stiff fee on locals that want to gamble? The Gaming Commissioner can sell both ‘tourist’ and ‘local’ permits; the latter priced much higher than the former. That will further increase Goa’s revenues and the high cost will deter locals from gambling.

One Last Thought

Finally, if the state government does manage to properly legally define who is a Goan and who is not, then it can and must go ahead and fulfil another, more important and longstanding demand of the Goan people.

Non-Goans must be banned from buying land in Goa!

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

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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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