Bombay HC endorses Goa govt’s decision to bar Goans from entering casinos

Barring local residents from entering casinos by the Goa government is “well-founded” and not violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, the Bombay High Court bench in Goa has said.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by a local lawyer, who had argued that the Goa government decision in February last year to ban domiciled Goans from entering casinos was discriminatory and violative of Constitutional provisions.

“Gambling is totally prohibited, but by way of some exceptions a certain class of places and people are exempted from such prohibition. The object of the State is naturally to prevent the person domiciled in Goa to be lured into such chance games and to suffer poverty and mental trauma for their families.

“The classification is founded with the object of preventing the spread of gambling and transforming the exception into a rule,” a High Court bench comprising Justices M.S. Sonak and M.S. Jawalkar said in the order on Thursday.

“Such classification grouping person domiciled in Goa and on the other hand tourist having a tourist permit is well-founded. The classification between tourists who come to Goa for a few days to entertain themselves and locals domiciled in Goa is based on an intelligible differentia (reasonable basis for differentiation). Section 2(7) defines tourists quite clearly and excludes persons domiciled or permanently residing in Goa,” Court also said.

The Court also said that unlike tourists, locals would have “much greater opportunities” to visit casinos and said that “there is nothing arbitrary or discriminatory in the object or the classification”.

“The petitioner does not challenge the entry of tourists in casinos but insists on permitting him to enter (casinos). Since the petitioner and the tourists belong to separate classes, no case of breach of Article 14 is made out,” the Court also said.

In his petition, advocate Shukr Usgaonkar had said that the Goa government’s decision to bar domiciled Goans from entering casinos was violative of his personal rights, because it barred him from visiting casinos.

“The impugned provisions contravene Article 14 of the Constitution of India by prohibiting access to persons, who are permanent residents of Goa.

“The distinction being made between tourists and non-tourists miserably fails the test of reasonable classification which must be fulfilled by any classification to withstand the rigors of Article 14. What is good for tourists cannot be bad for the Goans or non-tourists,” Ugaonkar had said.

Goa has five offshore casinos and around 10 onshore casinos operational in the coastal state.