In a bid to promote tourism and give a fillip to economic growth, Japan is in advanced stages of legalising casinos in the island state in a structured manner. News reports indicate that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have submitted a bill to legalise casinos in the country and would probably be passed by Diet, the Japanese Parliament in the next session of Parliament, by January 2015.
Though there has been lot of discussion of Japan legalising casinos in the past few years, the talks gained serious momentum only last year with a cross-party group of pro-casino lawmakers making an aggressive push for allowing casinos before the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. With Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting casinos in Singapore and claiming that casinos have many economic benefits, it seems certain that a few casino resorts would be allowed in Japan within the next couple of years.
Many top global gaming companies such as MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment Ltd., Melco Crown Ltd. etc. are said to be interested in developing integrated gaming resorts in Japan. Analysts indicate that the Japanese casino industry may be worth at least US $21-22 billion and estimate around US $ 2 billion in revenue annually for the government.
It may be noted that most forms of gambling are currently illegal in Japan though there is a huge craze for gaming in the Asian state and gaming is very much prevalent underground. Online gambling is a grey area though some gaming sites are accessed by Japanese citizens. Several forms of gaming such as lotteries, betting on horse racing and motor sports etc. are however exempted from gambling legislations and currently legal. The famous pachinko (pinball like slot machine)parlours of Japan are also allowed for cultural and historical reasons. However uspokersites.us explains that not all are legit and many pachinko parlours are controlled by the Japanese mafia and used for various illegal activities.
The move by the Japanese government to legalise casinos is likely to increase competition among other Asian casino hotspots such as Macau and Singapore. The move may augur well for the Indian gaming industry as well since the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmakers including Prime Minister Narendra Modi are said to be impressed with Japanese policies and laws and may thus be more receptive to calls for legalising gambling and betting.
Exclusive In developments that could adversely affect Goa’s casino industry; Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar changed the annual recurring license fee structure for onshore and offshore casinos in the state’s annual budget today. Now onshore casinos will have to pay accordingly to their area with a minimum fee of Rs. 2 crore per annum for a 100 square metre casino. Offshore casinos will have to pay according to the vessel capacity with a casino having capacity of up to 100 persons having to pay Rs. 6 crore per annum. The license fees previously stood at Rs. 2.5 crore per annum for onshore casinos and Rs. 6.5 crore per annum for offshore ones irrespective of their size or capacity.
Apart from this change which hikes license fees for larger casinos, Parrikar also hiked the entry fee to casinos from Rs. 500/- per person per day to Rs. 700/- per person per day by amending the Goa Entertainment Tax Act, 1964.
Simultaneously, Parrikar also clarified to the House that offshore casinos will have to leave River Mandovi by 2015 as per an undertaking given by them. Parrikar was also quoted by news reports as saying that he was not opposed to casinos existing in the Arabian Sea and also that he had no problems with onshore casinos operating in five star hotels in the state. Transfer of casino licenses has also been permitted at a fixed fee of Rs. 5 crores.
Parrikar had earlier also promised notification of an independent Gaming Commission and rules barring entry of citizens domiciled in Goa. The notification of these regulations are also expected within the next few days.
Relevant extracts of Parrikar’s budget speech:
Speaker Sir, I propose to enhance the existing entry fee of Rs. 500/- charged under the Goa Entertainment Tax Act, 1964 to Rs. 700/- per person per day.
Sir, further, I propose to levy a fee of Rs. 5 crores for transfer of casino license. So also I propose to revise the annual recurring fee based on the area for land based casino and the capacity of passenger alongwith crew members of offshore casino. The details are provide in the Annexure- C.
The Goa government and opposition parties have been engaged in a major war of words over the state’s casino policy for the past few months. In January 2014, Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced that the Goa Public Gambling (Amendment) Act of 2012 which barred entry of Goan residents into onshore and offshore casinos will be enforced from 1st March 2014 after rules and regulations regarding the same are notified. It was also announced that a Gaming Commission would be in place before 1st March to regulate onshore and offshore casinos.
Parrikar in a media statement said, “Casino rules will be finalised by Feb 28 after which Goans will be banned from entering casinos. Only tourists will be allowed.” Parrikar added that powers and duties of the independent Gaming Commissioner would be decided after extensive research. He added that the Gaming Commission was expected to be in place by March 2014.
However despite this assurance, political parties and social organisations remain unsatisfied with the state’s casino policy and claim that the government is going back on its anti-casino stand. The latest controversy has arose from the government’s decision that it could allow transfer of casino license to other entities based on certain contingencies but backtracked after opposition from Congress party, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and anti-casino NGO Aam Aurat Aamdi Against Gambling (AAAAG). In a media interaction with journalists Parrikar did not clearly answer a question on the state’s casino transfer policy stating, “I can’t remember what new rules say…Whether there is a provision or not.”
Interestingly, Section 13E of the amended Goa Public Gambling Act states that no person shall transfer a license obtained under provisions of the Act expect with prior permission of the state government on application and payment of prescribed fees. However the exact procedure on such transfer remains unclear and no guidelines have been framed on the issue.
It must be noted that once notified the Goa Gaming Commission would have wide-reaching powers to regulate all offshore and onshore casinos, issue tourist permits for entry to casinos, make rules for transfer of casino licenses and to make rules for conduct of games in casinos.
The exact nature and rules governing Goa’s casino industry and appointment of a Gaming Commissioner is expected to be notified in the next couple of months after which there would be more clarity on the future direction of the gaming industry in the state.
In its board meeting dated 29th October 2013, Delta Corp; India’s only listed gaming company announced the merger of its wholly owned subsidiary Delta Leisure and Entertainment Private Limited (DLEPL) after appropriate permission from the High Court for the scheme of merger. DLEPL runs Casinos Deltin and Royale along with other hospitality and gaming businesses.
In a press release along with the announcement, Delta Corp claimed that the revenue for the company from the core gaming business for the quarter was Rs. 67.49 crores which was 48% greater than the Rs. 42.66 cores revenue for the company in the corresponding quarter last year.
“This quarter has been incredibly fulfilling, we launched the Deltin brand that will become the gold standard for quality in the gaming and hospitality business. Even more exciting has been the launch of Delting Royale, India’s largest casino that is a game-changer for this industry, and which brings a truly global gaming experience to India shores,” said Jaydev Mody, chairman, Delta Corp in the press release.
The company also claimed that it was optimistic about the gaming sector and would mainly focus on it in the coming years. In an interview with Economic Times, Delta Corp Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Hardik Dhebar also sounded positive about the growth figures though financial website Myiris noted that the company had seen a 63.6% plunge in net profits as compared to the same quarter in the last fiscal year.
Dhebar added in the interview that he expected the company’s Daman resort-cum-casino to start operations in the ‘next couple of months’. Despite many announcements and keen anticipation in the last couple of years, Delta Corp has been unable to launch operations in the Union territory in the past couple of years possibly due to absence of all regulatory compliances.
[An edited version of this article was first published in The Statesman on 12th September 2013. A soft copy of the column can be accessed here.]
Gambling has enthralled human civilisations ever since the ancient times. Description of rampant gambling prevalent in society can be found in Mahabharata, Quran, Bible and other ancient religious texts. In fact sports and wagering are also inextricably linked. Cricket, Indias favourite sport became popular in 18th century England because it gave the upper-class elites an opportunity to wager on their favourite teams.
Given the ubiquitous nature of gambling, it has always been difficult for governments to prohibit it. However, Indian laws on the subject remain archaic and ambiguous. Based on the Victorian notion of morality, gambling in a common gaming house was prohibited by the Public Gambling Act of 1867. The law still remains in the statute book though state governments have enacted their own gaming Acts modelled on the Public Gambling Act.
There are multiple problems associated with the Public Gambling Act and other state gaming laws. First, none of the laws have kept pace with changing times and the statute does not contemplate for instance gambling through internet or mobile phones and fails to clearly penalise bookmakers or sports betting.
Secondly these laws are scarcely implemented resulting in a huge underground betting and gambling market controlled by mafia syndicates which are often used to fund terrorist networks and other criminal activities. Underworld don Dawood Ibrahims solid grip over the illegal gambling and betting market is all well known. In fact after the liberalisation of Indian economy put an end to the illegal smuggling market, bottlegging and bookmaking are said to be the only two major sources of revenue for the underworld. Recent estimates by KPMG suggests that the underground gambling market in India might be worth a staggering US $ 60 billion, which is more than 2% of Indias GDP.
Thirdly, legalising gambling with specific set of rules and a strong regulatory framework would prevent match-fixing and other cheating in gambling to a large extent (cheating in gambling could be detected through suspicious betting patterns and regular inspection of gaming premises as is done in European countries), giving citizens a transparent and free right to indulge in recreational gaming.
Given this background, the economic benefits of liberalising this sector seem obvious. It would defy logic to continue having grey areas in gambling laws to benefit mafia syndicates while the government is deprived of a fair share of revenue. The moral arguments of protecting citizens against the ills of gambling also do not seem to cut much ice since the benefits clearly outweigh the costs.
Surprisingly India still swears by the Victorian notion of frowning on gambling while United Kingdom (and most other common law countries) have comprehensively liberalised the sector allowing various forms of lotteries, casinos, sports betting and internet gambling. The British Gambling Act of 2005 has addressed the problems of gambling addiction and gambling by minors through creation of the Gambling Commission, an independent regulatory body to monitor the gaming industry.
It is thus logical that governments in India should start looking at liberalising this sector to earn income through taxation and curtail revenue for criminal syndicates, just as they were driven out of their lucrative smuggling business post-1991 reforms.
The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) has been actively urging the Central government to legalise sports betting and estimates a mind boggling Rs. 12,000- 19,000 crores of revenue to the government through the Rs. 3,00,000 crore illegal sports betting market alone. Such huge amounts of revenue can go a long way in reducing the fiscal deficit and economic crisis.
All of this will led to a natural question: why hasnt the government tried to legalise gambling in a structured manner? The simple answer to this is political expediency. The small states of Goa and Sikkim remain the only two territories in India where casinos have been permitted through statutes (although a rather ironic situation exists in many other states where government sponsored lotteries or betting on horse races is perfectly legal, but card games and other forms of wagers are prohibited by law).
Out of these two tourist states, Sikkim has authorised land-based casinos in five star hotels; but Sikkim having had one-party rule for the last decade or so has not faced any serious political opposition. However even in Goa there is significant blame game over offshore casinos authorised in 1996 by an Act of the state legislature. The Congress and BJP have taken turns in ridiculing the state casino policy while in opposition; and the current Goa government has already imposed stringent regulations on the casino industry and promised to push offshore casinos, into the Arabian Sea vowing to keep Goans at bay from the sins of gambling.
Other state governments like Punjab, Odisha, Assam and Haryana have at various points of time contemplated legalising gambling but have dropped the idea due to political opposition and negative public perception. The legislative assembly of Maharashtra passed a comprehensive casino legislation in 1976 taxing and legalising various wagering activities. Though the government was contemplating allowing casinos at various points of time over the past three decades, the statute is in cold storage and has not yet been enforced.
Thus, it is high time now that governments should immediately look at a holistic legislation legalising gambling and curtailing cheating and addiction in these activities to allow citizens a right to freely choose their pastimes.
ExclusiveAs Delta Corp started casino operations on its new vessel MV Horseshoe after securing all necessary compliances for transfer of its existing offshore casino license to a larger vessel, opposition Congress government alleged a Rs. 431 crore casino scam in allowing transfer of offshore casino license to Delta Corp. Congress politicians alleged that Goa BJP leaders had got kickbacks through insider trading on the stock market to the tune of Rs. 431 crores in the run-up to the announcement of license transfer.
However, in an exclusive conversation, Francis D’Souza, Deputy Chief Minister of Goaand Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader rubbished all allegations of the Congress party and said, “Congress Party is an expert on scams and they are deep rooted in all kinds of scams. These allegations of manipulation of stock market by Goa government officials are frivolous and baseless. Since Congress is in opposition it is making loud noises and trying to stop all forms of revenues for the state government. They earlier tried to stop entry tax and mining in the state and now they want to stop revenue from casinos by banning them altogether. It seems that Congress wants to put the state government in a financial crunch and does not want financial stability for the exchequer.”
On being asked to clarify BJP and Goa government’s stand on the issue of offshore casinos in the state, D’Souza said, “It is not possible to change decisions made by previous governments (on allowing offshore casinos) overnight. Lot of investment has been made in the casino industry which is benefiting Goan tourism and economy and generating employment. Due process of law has to be followed in changing conditions and we are sticking to the stand that offshore casinos will not remain in River Mandovi after two years. We are trying to phase out offshore casinos.”
D’Souza added that gambling was an inevitable vice in all societies since ancient times and it was not possible to ban casinos altogether. “Although I have never gambled in my life, I think banning casinos is not a solution. Gambling has existed since beginning of mankind and cannot be wished away though some organisations want it.”
On the issue of an independent Gaming Commission which was to be established as per the Goa Gambling (Amendment) Act, 2012, D’Souza responded by saying that an independent gaming commission was required to monitor activities of the casinos and the Chief Minister was working towards its establishment. He added that the commission may be put in place before the October assembly session. “I have always asked that machines and equipment in casinos should be calibrated; should be fair and transparent. It may be the case that casino owners are taking away all the money and gamblers are being cheated. I had raised the issue of as Member of Committee on Delegated Legislation (in the Goa assembly) and asked for framing of rules and standards (by the Gaming Commission or Government). I ask the casino owners to come forward and prove that all machines are fair and calibrated”, he claimed.
On being asked about Aam Aurat Aadmi Against Gambling (AAAAG) and other NGO’s opposition to all casinos in Goa, D’Souza replied, “They (AAAAG) have their own point of view which I accept. But certain things cannot be changed overnight and gambling cannot be wished away from society altogether. Hence we also have to consider revenue, employment and tourism aspects before reaching any decision. I would also like to say that some NGO’s are falling prey to tactics of the Congress party which is now opposing casinos only for their convenience. Congress has no right to oppose casinos now as they allowed them in the first place.”
The following would be steps taken by the Goan government to regulate casinos in the state as per statements issued by the Chief Minister:
No change in existing regulations for onshore casinos (in five star hotels). Onshore casinos to remain in the state; no further restrictions on license conditions and no bar on issuing new licenses to onshore casinos.
Licenses of offshore casinos expiring after 31st March 2014 will not be renewed.
Licenses of offshore casinos expiring before 31st March 2014 may be renewed subject to the condition that they shall move out of River Mandovi (into the Arabian sea) within the next two years.
No new licenses will be issued to any offshore casino.
Goan Gaming Commission, an independent regulatory body will monitor all activities of onshore and offshore casinos to ensure that they act in accordance with the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, 1976 and license conditions. The legislative assembly has approved the idea of a Gaming Commission through the passage of the Goa Gambling Amendment Act 2012. The government has announced that it will notify the formation of the Commission within the next couple of months.
These announcements will stop any new offshore casinos and the shift outside River Mandovi will certainly make the offshore casino industry economically unfeasible. Along with stricter regulations by the Gaming Commission, these measures taken by the Goa government come as a major blow to the casino industry.
Exclusive Digging through the archives in the Maharashtra Law & Judiciary Department it has been found out that the state legislative assembly of Maharashtra passed a historic and visionary piece of legislation in 1976; during the height of national emergency. The Maharashtra legislative assembly had passed TheMaharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976 receiving the assent of the Governor on 19th July of that year as per a gazetted copy available through the government.
While it is unclear as to what prompted the state government to pass such a landmark and progressive Bill in 1976 (one possible reason could be to curb criminal activities and black money associated with gambling dens run by the underworld) when the country was in a state of national emergency and civil liberties were severely curtailed (probably without any political, social or religious opposition due to the clampdown imposed during the period); but it has been confirmed that Maharashtra Congress-led government under the leadership of Chief Minister Shankarrao Chavan enabled passage of this historic legislation that allowed state government to grant licenses for all casinos in specified areas on payment of fees.
Casino games have been defined to mean any games of chance including betting activities. Further, the state government has been authorised to tax up to twenty-five percent (25% ) of the amount wagered in casinos as tax from the owners and the Act was to override provisions of the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887 (which imposes a blanket ban on gambling and betting except lotteries and betting on horse-races).
All endeavours are being made to obtain more information on the Act and any plans/proposals after that but a 1976 judgment of the Gujarat High Court in Balubhai Amidas Khrishti v. State of Gujarat, (1978) 19 GLR 535 (the decision was on disciplinary action for offences of moral turpitude) indicates that the legislative assembly has passed the Act after deliberation and was in the process of allowing casinos. Following was the observation of the court:
“Latest development in this behalf was brought to the notice of the Court by Mr. Abichandani who has brought daily issue of time of india (sic) dated 2nd July 1976 which carries a news item that the Maharashtra Government has decided to license casinos in the State and impose tax on the money staked on the games in casinos. Now, gambling is permitted in casinos.
Maharashtra Government has not only gone to set up casinos but it is being done with a view to channelising gambling instinct of the human being so that they may not be victims of some perfidious element. That is however, neither here nor there because even if the casino is set up by the Maharashtra Government it permits gambling none-the-less. In fact I was informed that a regular bill for licensing casinos is already introduced in the Maharashtra State Assembly. I am not merely relying upon the newspaper item. I am on much firmer ground when I say that Maharasthra Government which is described as forward looking progressive Government which has completely relaxed prohibition and is now going to permit gambling by licensing casinos under its aegis…”
It is unclear what later transpired after which no casino has opened in Maharashtra and Goa was the first Indian state to amend their legislation to allow casinos in the year 1996.
The one essential requirement under the Maharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976 has somehow not yet been fulfilled though records indicate that the Act has been passed and is in force in the state as of now. Section 1(3) of the Act states that “it (the Act) shall come into force such date as the State government may by notification in the Official Gazette appoint.”
No such notification has been issued by the government till date and hence this Act remains buried in the archives and will remain infructuous and of academic importance till there is enough political will and the executive government of the day summons the courage to pass an appropriate notification and draft rules giving effect to provisions of the Act. It is not easy to speculate reasons for not issuing the notification and efforts are on to procure necessary information from the government departments.
However there were various proposals in the past 37-odd years after passage of this landmark legislation to open casinos in the state. In 2003, entrepreneur Vikram Mittal of Lotelier Group discussed a proposal with government officials to start a casino in Raigad district of Maharashtra but there was no progress in the matter, possibly due to political and other opposition.
There is news through media sources that Maharashtra government may again consider proposals to allow casinos in the state- which can either be done through a notification under TheMaharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976 or for promotion of a tribal area under Schedule V of the Constitution. However, the decision to allow casinos is entirely political and will only be done when appropriate pressure is applied to the government and strong reasons are given for notifying the Act or passing suitable amendments. One only hopes that the 37-year old Casino Act is notified and cash-starved Maharashtra does not miss an opportunity to earn valuable revenue and grow as a tourist destination like neighbouring Goa.
Note: A copy of TheMaharashtra Casinos (Control & Tax) Act, 1976 is available on the Bombay High Court website here.
Update: The records in the Law and Home Departments of the government of Maharashtra indicate that the Act is still in force but no notification giving effect to the Act has been issued. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act indicate that it was passed to earn revenues from casinos and promote Maharashtra as a tourism destination especially for foreign tourists.
Records of legislative proceedings also indicate that there was opposition to the Bill from the Muslim league leader and MLA GM Banatwala who opposed allowing casinos and betting, moved various amendments (which were negatived) and termed gambling as an inevitable vice which should be strictly regulated.
Almost one year after initial reports in the media and on this website, Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and son of the state’s top leader, Parkash Singh Badal has renewed his plan of having casinos and recreational zones in Punjab according to fresh media reports.
Ministers and MLAs belonging to Punjab’s ruling Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)- BJP coalition had earlier held a joint strategy session in Goa where some top ministers and MLAs visited Goa’s Casino Pride to understand the dynamics of the casino industry.
While Sukhbir Badal had earlier announced a proposal to develop a casino and recreational resort near Ludhiana in August 2012, the proposal was dropped after protests from opposition Congress and religious groups.
However a recent Economic Times report citing anonymous sources in the Punjab government states that the plan for allowing casinos in the state was never cancelled and before the Akalis’ “chintan shivir” in Goa earlier in the week, Badal had asked the Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) to prepare a feasibility report to set up a Las Vegas strip-like casino in Mattewara, a village near Ludhiana.
Further, PIDB officials and members from a private company, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS) had visited Goa early last year to meet the chief secretary and Special Secretary Mohan Lal to get familiarised with the technical know-how and legal frame work.
While there may still be fierce opposition to Badal’s grand plan of permitting casinos (which in all probability will have to be through an amendment to the Public Gambling Act, 1867 as applicable to Punjab and hence would result in fierce opposition both within and outside the legislative assembly), Badal will have to look at this lucrative option to improve the state’s economic health, specially after recent reports of fiscal difficulties faced by the Punjab government.
Further, recent media reports indicate that Goa casinos directly contributed Rs. 135. 45 crore (over 1% of Goa’s Gross State Domestic Product) to the state government in the form of taxes, license fees, permits etc. besides contributing other indirect and ancillary benefits such as promotion of tourism, generation of employment etc.
These benefits will certainly tempt Badal to seriously consider allowing casinos in the state in the next few months despite internal and external opposition to the proposal.
The Goa government through a notification issued and published in the Gazette on 21st November 2012 has amended the license terms for casinos and issued a new provision to be followed by all casinos.
The Goa Home Department through its Under-Secretary Neetal Amonkar issued the notification inserting a new clause in the casino license terms and conditions. The new clause of the notification reads as follows:
(xiv) The licensee shall strictly follow the guidelines as may be issued by the Government for preventing money laundering and for combating financing of terrorism.
While the exact guidelines have not been announced by the Goa government as of now, there has been a global practice of issuing guidelines to prevent generation of black money. Apprehensions about use of casino winnings by terrorist organisations and other criminal syndicates resulted in issue of money-laundering guidelines by the United Kingdom Gambling Commission. The guidelines include collection of mandatory due diligence documents from customers and cap on cash winnings that can be awarded to winners.
Similar guidelines have been issued by various governments across the globe. The notification came after concerns were raised by civil society regarding illegal use of casino winnings and anti-casino protests were raised by opposition party leaders.
The Manohar Parrikar led Goa government had earlier amended the Goa, Daman and Diu Gambling Act, 1976 banning entry of locals to casinos. Other regulatory measures such as capping the number of offshore and onshore casinos and increase in license fees were also undertaken as part of the government’s anti-casino stand.
Chief Minister Parrikar had vowed to impose stricter regulations and possibly ban casinos as part of his protests during election campaigns. This move can be seen as a reinforcement of the government’s stance against the growing influence of casinos. However, the impact of this notification on revenues will only be known when exact guidelines are issued to casinos.
PS- Readers can download a copy of this notification here. The Times of India story on the notification can be accessed here.