Goas offshore casinos in troubled waters - Monday 23rd of June 2008

Indias big gaming operator Creative Gaming Solutions, a subsidiary of Pan India Network Infravest Pvt Ltd, the promoters of Playwin, recently announced plans to launch "South Asias biggest offshore casino" appropriately named the Maharajah Casino, from Goa.

Creative and Highstreet Cruises and Entertainment Pvt Ltd, another major player in the gaming and entertainment industry, which is also in queue for a licence from the Goa government for its Casino Royale, could be in for a rude shock and disappointment.

Besieged by protests over its ill-conceived open door policy on offshore casinos, the Goa government is set for a rethink on licensing new floating casinos here.

“We are going to review the policy and frame rules to regulate the casino business. The matter will be referred to the Cabinet,” Chief Minister Digambar Kamat said.

The Corporation of the City of Panaji earlier this week also passed a resolution to ban new floating casinos from operating in the Mandovi River, which the civic body says falls within its jurisdiction.

Corporation members said they were acting in the public interest after representations from NGOs opposed the promotion of gambling.

So far only two floating casinos have been licensed by the Goa government, the Advani-owned Casino Goa which runs on the luxury yacht Caravela, and Hotel Leela Ventures’ Casino Rio which is still to take off.

Propelled by the notion that Goa stood to rake in huge revenues from casino operations, the Goa government announced an open-door policy in 2006 and was flooded with 20 applications for offshore casinos.

It collected a processing fee of Rs 10 lakh each from six new operators including Highstreet and mining industrialists Salgaocars, and hiked the annual licence fee from Rs 1 crore to Rs 5 crore. But in what is clearly a case of putting the cart before the horse, it did nothing to frame rules to regulate casino operations or to set up infrastructure like jetties.

Even the Caravela which has been running for seven years, is embroiled in a legal tangle with the Goa government over the use of the Fisheries department jetty for its operations.

Hotelier Sunder Advani who is in a joint venture with Casinos Austria told Deccan Herald he would have little choice but to build a new jetty to run Casino Goa if the state government terminates its jetty lease with him.

Fisheries Minister Joaquim Alemao maintains there is place for only one casino vessel to operate at the jetty and said the government was planning to retender it for a new lease.

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