Offshore casinos appear to have emerged as a more ‘stable’ factor in Goa’s electioneering and politics than the side-switching politicians.
Even as much political water has flown down the Mandovi river over the last decade, ruling and opposition politicians have come and gone in Goa, but the offshore casino industry has stayed put.
Casinos have also taken centre stage in most of the election campaigns during the period.
A case in point are the upcoming elections to the state’s only municipal corporation — the Corporation of the City of Panaji, an assembly constituency headed by BJP MLA Atanasio Monserrate.
Monserrate had contested the 2019 state assembly Panaji by-polls on a Congress ticket with a key poll promise of doing away with the six offshore casinos — located in the Mandovi river off Panaji — within 100 days of being elected. There are currently six offshore casinos parked in the Mandovi river and nine onshore casinos operating from various five star resorts in the state.
He, however joined the ruling BJP well within 100 days, playing a key role in a coup in which 10 Congress MLAs quit the Opposition party to join the saffron party.
His promise to remove offshore casinos from the Mandovi river remains unfulfilled, although Monserrate now believes that offshore casinos were never really a direct issue for the Panaji voters.
“The main issue with casinos is related to the traffic and the parking woes faced by the residents in Panaji. I have understood the issue well now. The concern about casinos is more because of the traffic problem people are facing,” says Monserrate as he defended his inability to keep his 2019 poll promise.
Monserrate, however is not the first politician to make a U-turn on the casino issue.
Goa, one of the top beach and nightlife tourism destination in the country, first opened up to casinos in the late 90s under the then Congress regime, which amended the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, to provide licences to one offshore casino and a string of casino licences to five star hotels.
In its 2007-12 stint in power, the Congress-led coalition government granted a string of fresh permissions for offshore and onshore casinos.
Ahead of the 2012 state assembly poll, the BJP, which had led a sustained campaign against the casino industry for several years, had promised that if voted to power its government would rid the Mandovi river of the casinos.
However, after coming to power, then chief minister Manohar Parrikar and later his successor Laxmikant Parsekar did a U-Turn on the promise made in the BJP poll manifesto, by insisting that the casinos will have to stay put because of the quantum of revenue they contributed to the state’s coffers.
From 2012 to 2020, offshore and onshore casinos contributed Rs 785.52 crore and Rs 491.76 crore to the state treasury through various taxes and entry fees.
The constant flip flops by politicians on such issues has frustrated activists like Sabina Martins, convenor of the Aam Aadmi and Aurat Against Gambling, an NGO which has been opposing the industry for years.
“Trusting elected representatives to do the needful has not worked. Casinos have come in because of certain amendments made in the legislative assembly. If they have to move out, it has to move via another decision taken there. It is important to get legislators to do the needful,” Martins said.