Casino gains, tourism loses

By Prabhakar Timble
05 March 2013 09:45 IST

The Indian illegal gambling market is quite intensive and extensive. However, the legal casino gambling (being legal, it is now elevated to gaming) is allowed only in two states of India i.e. Sikkim and the always blessed Goa. I am told that there is only one casino in Sikkim. Goa takes pride in hosting seventeen casinos so much so that the capital city of Goa appears to dance on the banks of river Casino (Mandovi hardly visible) and Goa is known to the world as the casino jewel of India.

The casino gains

Goa was famous for its local brew “feni” and Goans were quizzed on wine and liquor under the belief that it was natural for the locals to stay drowned under the influence of these juices. To some extent, this was tolerable except for the way in which a Goan was sought to be represented in Indian cinema. The image of this State is of fun loving people tied to the bottle with sparsely clad women enjoying dance and the common thread of idleness and laziness binding all. Goa is equally a place with a rich mosaic of culture blended with communal harmony. This tranquil, vibrant and friendly cosmopolitan human environment is unique to Goa which is rare to find in any other State of India. This natural and spontaneous vein in the life of Goans is not celebrated though this appears to be the prime reason for domestic and international tourist traffic. This lack of understanding made our government to legalise gambling with a view to attract the high spending tourists and give a boost to the tourism industry which is undoubtedly a mainstay of our economy. The traditional liquor industry is one which we have inherited. It has backward and forward linkages. The roots of these linkages percolate to villages and the traditional occupations. Casino gaming is an invited drug which has made the sexy and enticing river Mandovi ugly and polluted. The entry of casino gambling has damaged the positioning of Goa in the domestic and foreign market. It has contributed to intensify drug market, prostitution including child abuse and crime associated with this form of gambling. The casino trade is fuelled by unearned incomes, dividends from speculative transactions, fast kickbacks from corrupt deals and windfalls in the hands of public officers and professionals.  Like a land fill for untreatable solid waste, the casino turns out to be a slot and management centre for such “waste” money.

Let us look at the realities. Having created a devil to support the tourism industry for which we have natural endowments, we now feel that there is no alternative except to sleep with the evil spirit. The direct employment generation in this sector is around 5000, out of which 30% are locals. There are indirect dependents in terms of retail business. The revenue to the local government is around Rs. 85 crores i.e. almost half of what the government lost due to removal of VAT on petrol. It is advisable to earn from petrol as opposed to business which directly spins crime and puts pressure on law enforcement agencies.  It is largely the domestic tourist who frequents the casino as compared to the foreign tourist. The casino driven tourist does not add value to the overall economic activity of the region except marginal contribution to the occupancy rate of resorts. Casino trade has the larger burden of the illegal extortion taxes and mercenary fighters as compared to government taxation.  The trade is an animated centre of black money and acts as the reservoir for election funding and spending as well as all illegal businesses.

The lost kingdom

With the siege of the casinos, Goa has lost to market what it is and what it means to be. The image of the local population in the rest of the country is exactly opposite of what we are. Goans despite high morals and ethics are discredited. Goa is looked as the land for enjoyment without restraints and the friendliest destination for all vices. You name it and Goa will not disappoint.

This poses a big danger to the security of tourism industry and to sustainable tourism. There is an urgent need to look at this scenario as the State cannot afford to lose despite natural gifts, diverse culture, rich heritage and the hospitable population. Tourism can provide ample opportunities for developing occupations and providing self-employment in the hinterlands and also the coastal belt. The short-cuts of providing opportunities which appease to the baser and meaner instincts of people should be stopped. Tourism is not about gambling, drugs and prostitution. Even if assumed to be so, Goa should be looked as a destination for something different.

Why everyone wants to visit Goa? Why do we have repeat visitors? Why is Goa a preferred destination? Going a step further, why do outsiders i.e. domestic and foreigners desire to own a space in this territory? This is not a normal tendency with other locations. We need to seriously know this so that we offer to our tourists the Goa they treasure rather than the machine and dice which spins money, crime, abortions and prostitution.   

We can change the image of Goa in one stroke. This is by repealing the Public Gaming Act. The travel and tourism industry should give the desired push in their own self-interest.

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

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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

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