Tuesday 24 October 2017

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Rane to Parrikar, all join casino journey !

 

Goans have been taken for a royal ride, at least by four chief ministers, keeping everybody in dark about the controversial issue of offshore casinos.

It begins with Congress chief minister Pratapsing Rane and ends at Bharatiya Janata Party chief minister Manohar Parrikar, including another Congress CM Luizinho Faleiro and chief minister Francisco Sardinha, representing both - the rebel Congress and the BJP.

Ravi Naik, yet another chief minister way back in 1992, has a feather in his cap too for beginning the process through the backdoor, by allowing 'electronic casinos' in five star hotels, under the pretext of electronic amusements and slot machines.

The Goa Public Gambling Act, 1976, which is meant to prevent any kind of gambling, was amended only twice - to allow 'high class gambling' - in 1992 and 1996. The intelligent bureaucracy and greedy politicians have travelled through it systematically, finally to have Asia's first full-fledged casino of actual table games.

In 1992, then chief minister Ravi Naik inserted a fresh section 13 (A) (lucky number for the gamblers ?) in the act, authorising "any game of electronic amusement/slot machines in five star hotels, subject to such conditions".

The conditions were however laid down only in 1995, during Pratapsing Rane's tenure after fresh elections, by notifying rules on 9 November 1995, along with Form A and Form B for application and licence. Many five star hotels jumped at it.

The next stage came in August 1996, when Rane managed to get yet another amendment passed hurriedly on the last day of the monsoon session. It was a simple addition after the words Five Star hotels - "and such table games and gaming on board in vessels offshore as may be notified."

There was a hue and cry over it, with political parties and several NGOs forming a front to oppose its implementation, under the convenorship of then opposition leader Kashinath Jalmi. The BJP and even then UGDP supremo Churchill Alemao joined the front later.

Sensing the public mood against it, Rane, during the winter session in February 1997, suddenly announced : "if people think it is detrimental to the Goan society in the long term, then we don't want to impose it on them for our short-term benefits''.

Then came a notification on 27 August 1997, allowing only electronic amusement and slot machines on board the vessels. Accordingly, licence was granted to Renaissance Goa Resort (Hotel Ramada) as well as Frank Shipping Company (Goa-Mumbai catamaran service).

Everybody thought that the second amendment, allowing table games and gaming on board in vessels offshore, was finally amended. But it was not even touched. Only the addition was made to the rules, by defining 'vessels' and making provision for issuing licence for electronic slot machines on board the vessels.

It was then turn of Luizinho Faleiro, after winning fresh polls in June 1999, who began the process of amending the rules further, in order to allow implementation of Rane's amendment made in 1996 - authorising table games and gaming on board in vessels offshore.

According to what Parrikar officially read out from the file, the file was signed by Faleiro between 19 to 23 November 1999, after his government was thrown into minority with Sardinha and company revolting against the ruling party.

Following his predecessor and arch political rival's decision judiciously, Sardinha even signed the actual notification on 25 November, the very next day after getting sworn in as the 12th chief minister. The notification, paving way for actual casinos, was accordingly published on 30 November last year.

To clear the remaining hurdles, yet another lot of amendments to the rules was published on 2 May this year by the Sardinha government, which imposed fees of Rs 50 lakh for 20 machines and tables while also specifying the licensed premises for the actual casino.

"We were kept in dark about all these things", claims chief minister Parrikar today, though each and every amendment to the rules was published in the official gazette. All the politicians were also aware that the 1996 amendment - authorising actual table games - was never withdrawn.

"Why did the BJP government permit them to use the Panaji jetty", asks local Congress chief Nirmala Sawant. She refuses to get convinced by Parrikar's argument that the jetty was auctioned for docking, without specifying its purpose.

Sunder Advani, who has started Asia's first casino in Goa, is however very much thankful to the BJP government for permitting him to use the Panaji jetty. In fact he is overwhelmed to read Parrikar's statement that he is not against casino.

Claiming that Advani would go to the court, Parrikar expresses helplessness in stalling the casino. "We would not allow more casinos in future", he says. But will the BJP move the bill in the Assembly to withdraw the 1996 amendment ? The hitch lies there and everybody is quite about it.






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