‘Awarding casino licences can topple government’
Panaji, May 10 (IANS) Awarding a casino licence in any state other than Goa, could lead to the toppling of its government, according to Narinder Punj, a top official of one of Goa’s largest casinos ‘Big Daddy’.
Speaking to IANS on the sidelines of the formal launch of the casino on Thursday, Punj, who is the chief visionary officer and mentor of the ‘Big Daddy’ casino, also said that casinos had come to stay in Goa and no amount of posturing by politicians, even by the late Manohar Parrikar as opposition leader, had managed to oust the industry from Goa, which he claimed had contributed to the coastal state’s increasing footfalls.
"Awarding a licence to any (casino) operator in any other state, it could topple the government, because there is still public resentment against it (casinos). So most governments are very wary. Most governments, or most ruling parties are very wary about giving out licences," Punj said, when asked about why other Indian states have not chosen to permit casino operations.
"Classic case is Goa. Casinos have been an issue in every election. In Panaji, you have Babush Monserrate who is saying within 100 days I am going to get casinos out. We heard that from Parrikar. Parrikar used to stand outside the Caravela with a mashal (flame-torch) there. Everybody’s done it," Punj added.
The seven offshore casinos and nine onshore casinos in Goa have been a politically sensitive subject. After promising to drive away offshore casinos from the Mandovi river off Panaji, even leading a mashal yatra to create awareness, Parrikar as Chief Minister had allowed bigger casino vessels to operate. The current Congress candidate for the Panaji Assembly bypoll Atanasio alias Babush Monserrate has promised to do away with the casino industry if elected.
Punj claims, that the local population had eventually warmed up to the casino phenomenon in Goa and that even critics have come onboard over the years.
"It won’t be long before, the people that speak against us, come with us. Over two decades I have seen it. People who have opposed you, come with you," said Punj, who has worked as a head honcho for several casino operations in Goa since 1999.
Punj, however, said that the eagerness of the state government to make a killing on casino revenue was proverbially killing "goose that lays the golden egg".
In 1999, he said the government licence fees had risen from Rs 3.98 lakh to Rs 30 crore today.
"The government over the period has just looked upon casinos as a milking cow. They basically try to cut the goose that lays the golden egg. And its just a matter of time before. If the government does not realise that and keeps rampantly increasing our licence fees, some operators maybe forced to shut down," Punj said.
When asked, if he felt it was shocking as to why multiple state governments had failed to appoint a Gaming Commissioner to regulate the casino industry in Goa for over two decades, Punj concurred, adding that some casino operators were against setting up the authority.
"But some operators do not want it. Because if it comes into place and if it is enforced, then it makes making of money or making of mega bucks difficult," he said.
The casino official also said that over the years, a lot of Indian gambling games like Andar Bahar, Indian Flush were giving a run for money to classic western games like the American Roulette and Poker, adding that Goa’s casinos see heavy traffic from the Telugu speaking region.
He claimed that Andhra Pradesh could be the next Indian state to award licences for starting of casinos.
"I strongly believe it will be Andhra Pradesh. The Telugu people are big gamblers. The Andhraites are big gamblers and there are talks about Puducherry too," Punj said.