The shifting shores of casinos
Adv. Albertina Almeida
When the Public Gambling Act, 1976, was introduced in the Goa Daman & Diu Legislative Assembly, it was introduced with the objective of curbing gambling in the State. But the manner in which the Public Gambling Act evolved, is contrary to the very law under which they have been enacted. The first amendment of 1992 permitted some forms of gambling by way of games of electronic amusement and slot machines in five star hotels. Another amendment followed in 1996, permitting table games and gaming on board offshore vessels. During the debate on this amendment, Manohar Parrikar, the then Opposition leader, vociferously opposed the same. Victoria Fernandes also joined in the opposition. Parrikar had assured the groups that had approached him that he would make his opinion clear; that he was against any forms of gambling.
To placate rising protests, Chief Minister Pratap Singh Rane announced on the occasion of Women’s Day in 1997 that he would not permit casinos to be set up offshore despite the amendment. What most protesters failed to see was that in the absence of repealing the amendment permitting casinos offshore, there would be little possibility of denying a licence to someone who formally applied. As it turned out, he did not grant any licence for a casino.
If the Congress policy of yielding to the politics of globalization at the cost of the people was problematic, the opportunism that has besieged the ranks of the BJP including Manohar Parrikar has been equally if not more condemnatory.
After Rane’s assurance of not setting up offshore casinos, his Government was toppled. Successive Congress and Rajiv Congress Governments are not on record of issuing licences for casinos. It was the during the Goa People’s Congress rule under the leadership of Francisco Sardinha with the support of the BJP and the following BJP Government under the leadership of Parrikar that the first licence for setting up an offshore casino was issued and the first licence for dispensing alcohol at the then existing casino came to be granted.
Parrikar when questioned about his volte face told activists, that as an activist he supported the activists, but that being in Government he could not take the same position – a position that only Parrikar can explain. He stated that licences once granted could not be revoked without the State Government compensating. At this, it was also brought to the notice of the State Government that the principle of res extra commercium applies, that is, the Government is not responsible to licence holders of a business if the said business which is inherently vicious and pernicious, and is condemned by all civilized societies. It would of course amount to discrimination if licences were selectively not granted. After being handed over copies of the relevant Judgement in the matter, Parrikar assured that he would have to consult with the Government battery of lawyers, before taking a position on this. What followed was a continuous and indefinite deferring of the appointment to the protesting groups.
The amendment to the Public Gambling Act that Parrikar did introduce and which was passed by the Legislative Assembly in 2003 was about increasing the respective penalties of imprisonment or lower limits of penalties as from one month to two months, six months to one year, one year to three years, two years to three years and similarly of fines from Rs 200 to Rs 1000 rupees; Rs 500 to Rs 3000, Rs 2,000 to Rs 2,500. Such amendments have also been introduced and passed by previous Governments, and this amendment was not any major departure from similar previous amendments. There was only one salutary provision and that was about cancellation of a licence for any business if the premises of the business are used for the purpose of gaming. However this amendment paled into insignificance in the face of the demand for repealing the amendments permitting gaming and gaming houses.
When a member is in the Opposition and a move is made by him to introduce laws or amendments to laws, there is quite a possibility that the same will not get passed, or the member will be asked to withdraw his proposed legislation and the Government will come out with its own, if it is going with the thrust of the proposed legislation of the private member. In the instant case, that was not so. But it does not deter the private member from seeking to introduce a bill and generating a discussion where the members of the Assembly would be held accountable for their positions.
Nothing could deter Parrikar from still attempting to propose legislation in the Assembly which was about repealing the legislation permitting licences to casinos in five star hotels and offshore. However, Parrikar only so much as sought to introduce two pieces of legislation, one in 2008 and the other in 2011. The Amendment introduced by Parrikar in 2008 was intended to confine offshore casinos to seas five nautical miles from the coastline, and further to have the casinos operating in maritime vessels only and not in inland vessels. While even this proposed legislation was seeking to make a cosmetic change, the same was withdrawn by Parrikar himself in the same Assembly session. There was a proviso that the vessel should have been licensed to operate by the Directorate General of Shipping of the Ministry of Surface Transport. This is anyway the case and any vessel that has to operate in the outland waters has to have that licence and such a provision in the law relating to vessels in which casinos operate would make no difference. As for the other amendment that Parrikar had proposed in 2011, it was stated to be meant to prevent locals specially youth from getting involved in gambling activities and it proposed to incorporate an amendment that only non-residents shall be allowed to enter the State for purposes of gambling! Could there have been a principle in the logic of this amendment at all?
Meanwhile, on the streets,- Parrikar pledged as even a Youtube video clearly shows that casinos would be off the Goan map. But alas, after Parrikar assumed power again this March, he announced a reduction in the entry fee to casinos. In the wake of voices that were raised against this decision, it is quite likely that the Chief Minister will resurrect the contents of the same private member’s bills introduced by him in 2008 and 2011, albeit as a Government Bill this time, to divert the contra voices. But he cannot forget that if such a bill is proposed to be enacted, it is far from the truth of his commitment to the people.
Principles of equality guaranteed by the Constitution do not enable licensing of selective numbers of casinos. And neither is that the point that several people in Goa have raised and to whom the Chief Minister has vowed support. With casinos, short supply has the knack of raising the bar on what assets may be frittered away by individual citizens to wind their way into the limited number of casinos. And much supply has the uncanny knack of creating demand. Not allowing Goans on casinos vitiates the principle of res extra commercium that the Government can otherwise raise.
Because it makes it seem that casinos are not inherently vicious and pernicious and only the entry to them or their location is the problem. If anything, the business can only get more insidious and attract a criminal Mafiosi culture if casinos continue under such restrictions.
And while all this discussion rages about casinos, a caveat is in place as regards the use of the word casinos. Casinos as Goans understand them are the places where gambling is allowed through different mediums, that is, slot machines, and electronic amusement and table games and gaming on board. Therefore, although the word casinos figures nowhere in the amendments to the Public Gambling Act, that is what the amendments crying for repeal permit.