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Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: Hindustan Times
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal. Photo: Hindustan Times

AAP makes casinos central theme for Goa poll campaign

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal say that casinos and gambling are not part of Goan culture and blamed the BJP and Congress for failing to crack down on them during their tenures

Mumbai: Casinos in Goa have once again become a political issue with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) making it a central theme of its campaign for the Goa assembly elections due in early 2017, promising to shut them down if elected.

AAP convener Arvind Kejriwal has said that casinos and gambling are not part of Goan culture and blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress for failing to crack down on them during their tenures. “Only AAP can shut casinos in Goa," Kejriwal said in a video message to Goan voters three days back.

Goa, Sikkim, and the union territory of Daman and Diu are the only places in India where casinos are allowed as legal businesses under their respective Public Gambling Acts.

It was the Congress government in Goa which allowed casinos and gambling in the early 1990s in a bid to promote tourism. But Goa Congress chief Luizinho Faleiro has recently conceded that it was a “mistake" and said the Congress party, if returned to power in the state, will ban them.

According to a person who runs three casinos in Goa, the casino industry is worth Rs1,200 crore. “Fourteen casinos including three off-shore facilities are operating in Goa. We pay around Rs200 crore every year to the state government through various taxes. These casinos employ around 10,000 people," he said, requesting anonymity.

This casino operator said chief minister Laxmikant Parsekar was wrong when he said the industry only gave Rs50 crore per annum by way of taxes. “Casinos are one of the biggest revenue earners for Goa after mining and tourism. In fact it is one of the reasons why Goa is one of the tourism-rich states and attracts a large number of foreigners," said this person.

The incumbent BJP government in Goa has done a volte-face on the issue. Defence minister and former Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar had promised to shut the casino business during the 2012 election campaign. But casinos continue to operate even though Parrikar remained chief minister till November 2014.

Parrikar’s successor, Laxmikant Parsekar, has also done frequent flip-flops on casinos by postponing the shut-down at least twice.

In an indication that the government isn’t too serious about its pledge, the state budget for the current fiscal actually hiked the entry fees for casinos from Rs700 per head to Rs1000.

Last week, Parsekar said the casinos contributed Rs50 crore per year in taxes and that it would be wrong to shut them.

Jaydev Mody, founder of Delta Corp. Ltd which runs casinos in Goa and Diu and Daman, said the demand to ban casinos was illogical because it did not factor in the fact that casinos are a legal business providing jobs.

“We are licensed to operate and it is a legal business. If the AAP comes to power and actually bans casinos, we will go to the court to challenge the ban," Mody said.

Another prominent casino owner, who did not wish to be named, accused AAP of double speak.

“What has the AAP done about illegal gambling points in Delhi itself?" he asked.

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