In many ways, Goan form and culture stand apart from the rest of India making it the chosen getaway for recreation and novel experiences. Our many land and off-shore casinos are just proof of this very potent cultural schism. Here’s some food for thought based on the past, present, and future of gambling in Goa and its many controversies over the years…
Through the length and breadth of our country, it is only in the two states of Goa and Sikkim, and one union territory of Daman that gambling is actually legal. Goa is certainly the forerunner in this regard. With a total of 15 casinos including 5 off-shore casinos, or as they are swankily called, “floating casinos”- a specialty of Goa alone.
Well, in most places around India, gambling is considered a taboo, a vice, one that leads wise people down the paths of shame and misfortune. Hence, the excessive regulation and outright embargos on it. In India, states are given considerable freedom to legislate on this subject and this is where the labyrinth of laws, loopholes, and wordplay comes into the picture!
In the only three places which allow for casinos and gambling to partially exist, such games as roulette, poker, rummy, and slot machines have to be packaged and presented with an interesting spin! In order to bypass the laws that ban betting, these games are defined in the law as games of skill, rather than games of chance!
This means that in Goa, these games are promoted on the grounds that players need skill, knowledge, ample experience, and a sharp mind in order to win in the gambling dens! It is owing to the shrewd wordplay that gambling in Goa is today thriving in the grey area of legislation, being neither completely legal nor illegal.
Early 1992 is when the government initially started allowing 5-star hotels in the state to run slot machines in their premises. This started blossoming to the extent that full-fledged gaming housing and floating casinos are now thick business. All these years since the Goa, Daman, and Diu, Public Gambling Act, 1976 which initially allowed for such establishments in the state, gambling houses now form a major tourist attraction as well as a source of revenue for Goa.
The state’s revenue from casinos in 2019 was ₹411 crore. These gambling establishments run entirely on permits and licenses granted by the state. This has kept the situation from going berserk and ensures benefits to the state treasury. And although the government is very happy with it, people of Goa, not so much.
In 2013, there was much uproar from locals for a ban on casinos. This followed the reportage of several real-life stories of gambling addictions devastating families and businesses, bringing people down to their absolute worst. After a rather long chronicle of promising bans to the electorates, the government finally announced in January 2020 that casinos shall be out of bounding for Goan locals.
However, this too continues to be ridden with ambiguity, for instance, what determines who is a local and who isn’t? In a state where magnificent posters celebrating roulette and blackjack, and all kinds of fun and revelry that apparently go on inside the casino are commanding your attention and giving you all the green signals, right when you check out of the airport and all through your journey to the hotel, it is rather surprising the hostility this way of life faces with the locals.
One of the star attractions of Goa, scores, and scores of people flock around the casino entrances along the Panjim causeway. It is hard to overlook the immense potential the industry has in influencing state policies and governance in their interest, and perhaps this is the cause for the air of distrust between them and the public.
Not to forget, the casino image is more often than not, shady with layers of trafficking, prostitution, and substance use shrouding it. But at the same time, the way it has strengthened various auxiliaries such as the hotel industry, transport, tourism, and so on has also been invaluable to our state’s economy which is almost predominantly based on tourist; being one of only three places where such activities are legal, this is sometimes even the sole purpose behind a trip to our shores.
Even amid all these developments, it is interesting to note that as per a study conducted by NGO Sangath, only 1.1% of adult males had used a casino once, while 39.5% played matka, the popular street sweepstakes of the Konkan region. A whopping 67.8% of people bought lottery tickets, but that is an ingrained cultural habit dating back to the colonial Provedoria da Asistencia Publica lottery that was established to raise funds for social services.
In an irony that is characteristic of Indian law, the lottery which is entirely a game of luck is completely legal across the country! In conclusion, it can be understood that Indian legislation on gambling is grappling with inconsistencies, which have made regulation of many illegal activities next to impossible. These activities continue to take place in shady by-lanes and beedi stores as an open secret in the country, and despite its ravishing casino culture, Goa is no exception to this.