Goa Minister backs shifting offshore casinos to Mopa airport, urges govt to maintain status quo till then

Goa Ports Minister Michael Lobo once again came out vociferously in favour of the state government notifying a long-term casino policy to rehabilitate the offshore casino vessels and shift them to a gaming zone near the upcoming Mopa airport.

Lobo opined that the government cannot disturb any business overnight, which is legal and that the casino business has been established in Goa and they have already invested in it.

“We have told the Chief Minister Pramod Sawant that the casino policy has to be in place. As per my opinion, it should come out in next six months, while the government has given an extension to offshore casino vessels to operate in river Mandovi. And the Chief Minister is also of the opinion that the work of constructing Mopa airport has to start,” the state minister and senior BJP leader is quoted to have said as per media reports.

Lobo however added that the shifting of the offshore casinos would take place only four or five years after the Mopa airport has been established, with construction activities at the greenfield airport currently being stalled due to the Supreme Court suspending environmental clearance for the project.

Lobo further reiterated that an alternative spot had been found to shift one offshore casino to another river body within the state, until the casino policy is finalised. He added that the feasibility study for the same is currently being conducted.

Meanwhile, Panaji city mayor Uday Madkaikar rejected Lobo’s demand to maintain status quo and allow offshore casinos to remain in River Mandovi until the casino policy is finalised.

Madkaikar reiterated the Corporation of City of Panaji’s (CCP’s) resolution to not renew the trade licenses of the six offshore casinos once their current license period comes to an end in the April-June 2020 period.

He added that Lobo can shift and accommodate the casinos in the Aguada Bay near Calangute area, which is a tourism hotspot and also Lobo’s assembly constituency.


Goa govt gives another six month extension to offshore casinos, long term policy expected soon

The Goa state cabinet approved yet another six month extension for offshore casinos to stay in the River Mandovi, as per media reports.

As per media reports, the cabinet approved the extension for the six offshore casinos to remain anchored in the River Mandovi until 31st March, 2020.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant however added that the casinos have been granted the extension pending a final decision on the issue, which will be done before the end of the extension period. “We will decide in the next six months what will be our final policy decision on casinos,” Sawant informed reporters.

Ports Minister Michael Lobo informed the reporters that a long term policy relating to casinos has to come up within the next few months. He further opined that a final decision would be taken in consultation with MLAs and ministers and noted that the casino industry, which has made big investments in the state cannot be expected to survive on ad-hoc extensions.

Earlier in the week, Lobo had stated that one of the offshore casino operators had expressed willingness to shift out of River Mandovi to the area between Aguada and Coco beach.

He added that the Ports Department will conduct inspection as to the feasibility of the location.


Civil society protests in Goa as immediate shifting of offshore casinos unlikely

Civil society and political groups held a protest march last week against Panaji MLA and BJP leader Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate’s non-fulfillment of poll promise to remove offshore casinos from the River Mandovi within 100 days of his election.

The protest was led by Aam Aadmi Party leader (AAP) Valmiki Naik and backed by other groups, including leaders from the Congress party.

“Babush Monserrate’s promise for 100 days was a joke. Even if he were to fulfill it, it would not make a difference. When you want to clean the house, you do not take the garbage from one room to the next. We want them (casinos) out of Goa, not shifted from the river,” Naik said.

“As far as the casinos are concerned, I am out to remove them from Panjim. I stand by my promises. My promises are meant to be kept not to be broken.”

I had said 100 days during the elections so now that I am in the government let us see how it can be done. My stand on the casino vessels does not change even though I am entering the BJP,” Monserrate told local media.

Meanwhile, State Ports Minister Michael Lobo told local media that his department was willing to consider shifting of offshore casinos to Aguada Bay subject to it being technically feasible.

He added that shifting of offshore casinos to a gaming zone near the Mopa airport in the near future was a possibility and was part of former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s vision. He added that the Chief Minister and cabinet will take a policy decision on shifting of offshore casinos to land.

In the last couple of months, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has given an assurance that locals will be banned from entering casinos and offshore casinos would be shifted from their current location in the River Mandovi.

While refusing to give definitive timelines by which time such a decision would be taken, Sawant had indicated that a policy change would be done after taking all stakeholders into confidence.

The Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) had also passed a resolution last month to not renew the trade licenses of the six offshore casinos docked on the River Mandovi, when they come up for renewal in the April-June 2020 period.


CCP pledges not to renew offshore casino trade licenses

Panaji city’s mayor Uday Madkaikar said that the corporators of the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) will pass a resolution to not renew the trade licenses of the six offshore casinos docked on the River Mandovi, when they come up for renewal in the April-June 2020 period.

Madkaikar claimed that the move will ensure that the casinos will have to automatically shift the entry point of their business outside the city limits of Panaji and that they will not be able to do their business in the city.

He also added that the signboard registration of casinos within the city limits will not be renewed and that he had spoken to Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate, the city’s MLA with respect to the decision of not renewing the casino trade licenses.

Deliberations regarding shifting Goa’s offshore casinos from their current location on the River Mandovi off Panaji city have been going on for the past several years, with Chief Minister Pramod Sawant recently telling the legislative assembly that timelines would be set for barring locals from accessing casinos and setting up of a designated gaming zone after consulting all stakeholders including MLAs.


Goa CM reaffirms commitment to bar locals from casinos, shift offshore casinos to gaming zone

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant reaffirmed his government’s commitment to ban locals from accessing the state’s casinos and shifting of offshore casinos to a designated gaming/entertainment zone in the state.

Sawant made the remarks while replying to a discussion on the budget performance of the Home Department.

Independent MLA and former Revenue Minister Rohan Khaunte questioned the government’s stance on shifting offshore casinos.

Khaunte sought to know the policy of the present Pramod Sawant-led government to shift off shore casinos out of River Mandovi, which was the commitment of former Chief Minister and Sawant’s predecessor Manohar Parrikar. 

He pointed out that Parrikar had come out with a plan to shift the off shore casinos onshore by identifying a designated area. Khaunte said that Parrikar was supposed to come out with a policy by September 2018, to convert off shore casinos into onshore. “But, unfortunately he fell ill and the policy never took shape,” he stated.

 “Today we are on the other side and hence we want to know from the incumbent CM, the policy for shifting the off shore casinos out of river Mandovi , which was a commitment of Parrikar to his people,” he added. 

Sawant while responding to the remarks made by MLAs such as Churchill Alemao, Alexio Reignaldo Lourenco, Glen Ticlo and Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate reportedly stated,  “I am in agreement with the sentiments of the MLAs that Goans should not be allowed on the casinos. There are some tourists who come to Goa only for casinos.”

He added, “The act (anti-gambling act) is in place, however, the date for the ban on entry of Goans has not been announced and therefore after studying the act, very soon I will announce the date and take all (MLAs) into confidence while doing so. Establishing of the gaming zone and entertainment zone is in the process and it will be announced all together.”

The Chief Minister told the house that the Goa state government had collected Rs. 411 crores as revenue from the casino industry in the state in the financial year 2018-19.

He further informed the house that 564 Goans and 877 non-Goans are employed in the six offshore casino and eight onshore casinos in the state. 

Goa’s Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, who assumed office earlier this year had till now maintained an ambivalent stance on the future of casinos, stating in media interviews that he would take time to form his opinion and informing the legislative assembly that the matter was still under examination of the government, without giving any definitive timelines by which the changes would be brought into effect.


Goa CM now says casinos part of permitted economic activities at upcoming Mopa airport

In a seemingly contradictory reply, Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant shared a document with the state legislative assembly that states‘casinos as per Goa laws for passengers’ is part of the list of economic activities that will be permitted within a commercial area of 232 acres adjoining the upcoming Mopa airport.

In response to a starred query by BJP MLA Wilfred D’Sa, Sawant tabled a copy of the feasibility report and list of permitted economic activities in terms of the concession agreement between the Goa government and airport infrastructure conglomerate GMR Group (which will be developing the Mopa airport).

Sawant however added that commercial activity at the airport will gain momentum only upon the commissioning of the airport and as such, at present, there is no proposal for commercial activity near the Mopa airport.

While the Chief Minister’s response may pave way for casinos at the Mopa airport, subject to amendment of the current Goa, Daman and Diu Gambling Act, 1976 and shifting of the offshore casinos, Sawant and his ministers have stated on numerous occasions that a new casino policy is still being examined by the state government and that no final decision has been made on shifting of offshore casinos to a new location.

The construction of the greenfield Mopa Airport in the Pernem Taluka of North Goa has been riddled with delays and protests from locals, with the Supreme Court recently suspending environmental clearance granted for construction at the airport and issuing directions to the Expert Appraisal Committee (EAC) to revisit its decision of giving a go ahead, in light of its impact on ecology.

In May 2019, the EAC reportedly gave a fresh clearance for construction at the Mopa airport with more stringent conditions, in light of the decision of the Supreme Court. The deadline for completion of the project, however, remain unclear in light of the delays due to suspension of its environmental clearance.


Goa govt to consider shifting offshore casinos to Aguada Bay

Newly appointed Goa Ports and Waste Management Minister Michael Lobo told the vidhan sabha that the state government is not averse to shifting offshore casinos, currently housed in the River Mandovi near Panaji to the Aguada Bay.

Lobo was replying to a cut motion introduced by veteran Congress leader and former Chief Minister Pratapsingh Rane to the demand of grant for ports for government failure to remove the offshore casinos out of the river. 

Rane was supported by BJP MLA from Panaji, Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate, NCP MLA Churchill Alemao, Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco and Leader of Opposition Digambar Kamat, all of whom demanded to know the plan and timelines on removal of offshore casinos from their existing location.

Replying to the cut motions to the demands on Ports, Lobo reportedly said,“The idea of shifting the casino vessel has been mooted by the Panjim MLA and I assure to study the matter and will also take him for a joint survey of the place.”

He added that while he is not averse to the idea of shifting casinos, the sole intention is that casino passengers should not be affected.

Monserrate on the other hand alleged that the state bureaucracy is patronising casinos and that the casino lobby seems to have privatised the jetties owned by the Captain of Ports and Fisheries Department to transport their visitors to the casino vessels in feeder boats.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has however maintained that he is studying the draft of a new casino policy mooted by his predecessor Manohar Parrikar that would potentially shift the offshore casinos to a designated entertainment zone on land and pave way for the appointment of a Gaming Commissioner to regulate the casino industry.

In reply to legislative queries in the past couple of weeks, Sawant merely stated that the matter is under examination and not given any timelines on deciding a definitive policy that will decide the future of offshore casinos in the state,


Goa MLAs demand reservation for locals in casino jobs, CM says its not legally permissible

Legislators in the Goa assembly discussed reservation for locals in casinos and other industrial units in the state, as per local media reports.

The issue was raised in the house by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MLA Churchill Alemao who demanded 80 per cent job reservation for Goan youths in the casino industry.

Alemao said that the state government should intervene and ensure that Goan youths, who are trained in the field of hospitality and hotel management, get an opportunity to work in the casino industry. He said  despite Goan youth being willing to work in the casinos, majority of workforce employed in casinos are from North Eastern states.

“I can understand that you want the Casino industry as it helps the State’s exchequer earn the revenue. But at the same time, they should provide 80 per cent of employment opportunities to Goans. Our Goan youth are willing and ready to work on casinos but the casino operators are not employing them.” he said. Alemao said that there is no job in this industry that Goans can’t do.

“Our youth are trained well in all those services that are provided in the casinos. If jobs are reserved for locals, it will help in solving the major issue of unemployment to certain extent,” he is said to have stated on the floor of the house.

Panaji MLA Atanasio ‘Babush’ Monserrate supported Alemao and added, “Almost 75 per cent working on casinos are outsiders. The casino operators advertise in national and international papers,” he charged.

Seeking an inquiry into the recruitments in the casinos, Monserrate challenged the govt to prove that even 7 per cent of those employed on casinos are Goans and called on the govt to take immediate action.

Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, however while discussing a law introduced by the Andhra Pradesh legislature to reserve 80 per cent employment opportunities in industrial units for residents of the state noted that such a law cannot stand test of the constitution and will be struck down by courts.

He however stated that the state government is in the process of training the youth as per the industry requirement through department of Skill Development.

Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Ex Goa CM Digambar Kamat corners govt on delay in casino policy

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant told the legislative assembly today that a new casino policy is under consideration of the government.

Sawant gave the response in reply to a starred question raised by former Goa Chief Minister and current leader of opposition Digambar Kamat. Sawant also replied that the drafting of rules for formation of a Gaming Commission to regulate casinos in the state is also under consideration of the government and will be finalised soon.

He further said that the cabinet had given eight extensions of six months each to offshore casinos to shift away from the River Mandovi after an in-principle decision was taken to remove offshore casinos from their current location in 2015.

On being asked a pointed question about the reasons for non-compliance of the timelines for shifting casinos out of the River Mandovi, previously assured by the state government, the Chief Minister replied that ‘the government has decided to remove casinos from the River Mandovi but till today no alternate feasible site has been finalized’.

Sawant gave a similar reply to Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco’s starred question on offshore casinos in the vidhan sabha today and stated that the riverboats will be shifted out of River Mandovi upon finalization of a feasible alternate site.

The Goa government had earlier given a similar response to Lourenco’s unstarred question in the house last week.

The new Goa chief minister has been non-committal on the issue of bringing a new casino policy, as promised by his predecessor Manohar Parrikar, In an interview to a local media house just after assuming office in March this year, Sawant had said that he would take some time to study the proposed draft of the casino policy and revert with his stand on the issue in some time.

Gaming Legal & Regulatory

Goa CM says casino policy and gaming commission still under examination, no timelines given for notification

Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, in a written response given to the legislative assembly today stated that the issue of bringing out a casino policy for Goa and appointment of a Gaming Commission to oversee offshore and onshore casinos is ‘under examination.’

Sawant stated this in a written reply to an unstarred question raised by Congress MLA Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, who sought to know why the contours of the casino policy, which had being announced by then Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in the legislative assembly last year, with an assurance formally announcing the detailed document by the end of August 2018 has not being released till date.

Lourenco also sought to know the status of appointment of a Gaming Commission, that Parrikar had stated would be announced by December 2018, and also sought to know the reasons for the delay in the implementation of the assurance.

Sawant did not give any specific reply to Lourenco’s query on the time frame by which the casino policy and gaming commission will be notified, and the reasons for the delay in the announcement.

In two separate responses to starred questions raised by BJP MLA Nilkanth Halarnkar, Sawant stated that six licenses have been given to offshore casinos and eight licenses have been currently issued to onshore casinos.

He stated that no cases of violation of any casino license term or condition have been reported to the government so far.