Saturday 18 November 2017

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Casinos: Jackpot or Blindness for Goa

 

What goes on in the casino is adult entertainment which drains family tourism. Gambling invariably gives a shot in the arm to organized crime and it is for the government to assess its preparedness to deal with it.


Goa, a brand by itself for its natural charm and non- bothering attitude of its people who are known all over for their art of blending work and leisure can very comfortably sustain the tourism industry and its economy without the perils associated with casino industry which is sought to be bestowed with respectability by substituting gambling with gaming. Though, politically a State, administratively two Districts, a total population of around 15 lakhs which is not even 40% of the population of a district in any other state of India is otherwise like a town. Six floating casinos in the river Mandovi and a couple on-shores is a guarantee for instability of economy and employment. In addition, it is extremely hazardous for the political and social health of this tiny State. The threat is also of Goa losing its core brand components. There are agreeable and suitable options for employment and growth in agriculture, fisheries, dairy, knowledge industry and services sector considering the human and youth potential of the State.

The proponents of casino gambling (gaming!) consider it as a part of the leisure and entertainment sector—like amusement parks, water sports or movie theaters. Those who support casino gambling generally do not see it as a moral issue and are indifferent to the long-term irreversible ills associated with it. The opponents are less unified in their opinions. Some disapprove of gambling on religious grounds. Others are suspicious of the industry which recruits and feeds thugs, cheats and shady politicians. Still others express caution as accessibility to casino gambling destroys youth and families as the lifestyle of gambling and complementary evils of prostitution and drug trade sound normal economic pursuits. There are few others whose opposition is restricted by the NIMBY factor---‘not in my backyard’.

 Costs & Benefits

A detached and unemotional review of casino industry would throw light on the benefits of this economic activity. The contribution to the public exchequer is sizeable in terms of license fees and taxes. The argument for heavy taxation gets emboldened as gambling is perceived to be ‘anti-social’. Hence, for the government it turns out to be politically safe route to mobilize revenue for public welfare projects. The casino tycoons also attempt to wash off the alleged sins through saintly investments in schools, hospitals and social welfare programmes. They also clothe their promotions and advertising by supporting cultural organizations, artists, police and fire emergency services earning advantage of being a socially responsible corporate. The direct employment in the industry and the support to other businesses are the other main gains to the economy. Casinos are known to create entry-level job opportunities at fairly good compensation packages. Hence, this could be a good option to be encouraged where there is either chronic unemployment or alternative employment opportunities are difficult to be created.

The direct cost of casino operations is the burden put on the governments to address the cancer of gambling, organized crime, drug trade and prostitution. This is a heavy load as it is potent to derail social growth and harmony.  The indirect cost is the growth of unaccounted wealth and opportunities of money laundering. The opportunity cost is the local hotels, restaurants and tourism service operators losing business as casino gambling competes with these genuine and stable businesses. Tourists and others glued to casino gambling are lost as customers to local hotels and stores. It is tested that other business owners in the neighborhood suffer from the loss of business on account of casinos. This could be true of smaller locations like Goa rather than other big-sized States.

Casino and tourism

The issue is whether the marriage between casino gambling and tourism will be an economic success story of Goa. To understand this, the government should be ready with data on local employment in the casino industry which is presently believed to be not positive and encouraging. If casino is argued to be supporting tourism, it is very important to have data on family tourism. What goes on in the casino is adult entertainment which drains family tourism. Gambling invariably gives a shot in the arm to organized crime and it is for the government to assess its preparedness to deal with it.

It is well understood that casinos survive because of problem gamblers and because of people for whom gambling has become an addiction. People come with finances to lose. The goal is not to win money. It’s addiction to stay in the game. It is referred to as “playing to extinction”. A Goan going to Les Vegas is not a compulsive gambler. But, here we could be, we will be. A casual visitor is not an issue but casinos would collapse if customers are just casual. If this argument is accepted, casinos cannot build local economy. It functions as a parasite which could set forces of local economic slowdown culminating in economic distress, domestic violence and crime.

The question therefore is--- Will Goa hit the jackpot in economic growth or tumble down losing everything it stands for? I would say it’s never too late to find a better way. 




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Prabhakar Timble

Mr Prabhakar Timble is an educationist and a legal expert. He has served several educational institutions, especially as the Principal of Government College at Quepem, Kare College of Law in Madgao as well as couple of Management Institutes. He was also the State Election Commissioner of Goa.

 

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