What is Wrong with Casino Royale Kathmandu

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Some of Kathmandu's five star hotels have legal casinos in their premises. But the casino establishments are owned and operated by third parties, and not by the five star hotels themselves. A unique feature of these casinos is that Nepal's citizens are not allowed to gamble here. These casinos are meant only for international tourists in Nepal and international tourists seen in these casinos are mostly from India. It is not, therefore, surprising that the standard currency used in Nepal's casinos is Indian rupees. The number of casinos in operation in Nepal has decreased in the past few years. Presently, there are at least two casinos in Kathmandu that are frequented by tourists, at least when they are open: Casino Royale at Hotel Yak and Yeti (Durbar Marg) and Casino Rad at Hotel Radisson (Lazimpat). Officially speaking, these casinos are supposed to be open 24 hours a day. Now to explain why that does not happen requires a bit of history to be told.  Nepal's first casino was opened by an American national - Mr. Richard D. Tuttle in the year 1968. Thereafter, he opened several others in Kathmandu and Pokhara through a company called "Nepal Recreation Center" (NRC). NRC in turn was owned by a holding company incorporated in Hong Kong. In the casino operations, Mr. Tuttle was assisted by his employee from India - Mr. Rakesh Wadhwa. Actually, Mr. Wadhwa must have been more than just an employee because later he managed to gain control of the Hong Kong based holding company that owned NRC. Mr. Wadhwa, following a royalty related dispute with the Government of Nepal, moved to India in 2010. Thereafter, the legal ownership of the remaining casinos in Nepal has been a bit hazy. Keep reading...
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Casino Royale Hotel Yak and Yeti Kathmandu

There were also reasons other than royalty disputes for the decline of casino business in Nepal. A Maoist Party had won Nepal's general elections in the year 2008 and, thereafter, illegal activities in Nepal's casinos came into the Government's focus. Some Nepali citizens were being illegally allowed entry into the casino premises by the operators. Apart from that the police suspected casino operations' links to some criminal activities in the country resulting in frequent raids on casino premises by the police. That resulted in a further decrease in the number of tourists coming into the casinos. Dwindling number of punters coupled with a less than professional management have turned Nepal's casino industry into a sick industry. Even in the present day, government-ordered shut downs of casinos due to non-payment of royalty are common. On April 20, 2014, all the casinos in Kathmandu were closed for the same reason.

My visit to Casino Royale, Kathmandu

I was in Kathmandu in April 2014 and on the evening of my arrival in Kathmandu, I visited Casino Royale which is located in the premises of Hotel Yak & Yeti near Durbar Marg. Someone checked my passport at the entry, kept my rucksack in a locker outside and let me in. There was no entry fee. The casino was full, there was not a single seat vacant at the table games or slot machines. All the table games in operation were either Baccarat or Roulette with minimum bets stating at 500 INR. There was a Blackjack table but it was not open. I asked one of the guest relations staff about Blackjack but he pointed me to a Supervisor sort of guy who was supposed to know the things. This guy told me the Blackjack table seldom opened because the players' demand was mostly for Baccarat and Roulette. I asked him about Blackjack rules - like Surrender / Double Down, etc. but to my surprise, he acted like he had never heard those things before. Looking at the mobs already present around Baccarat / Roulette tables, I had to forget about trying my hand at a table game in Casino Royale.

I went to a vacant slot machine. The machine did not accept my INR 1000 currency note. I called an assistant and asked for his help. This guy told me that he would change my INR 1000 note with the cashier and return. I gave him the money but instead of going to the cashier, this guy gave that note to another guest at the next slot machine. What was going on? When I protested, the assistant told me that the other guest was waiting for his payout of INR 1000 which was taking time. Now how would give me my INR 1000 when it arrived from the cashier. That took about 10 minutes. I already knew, Casino Royale's employees were idiots. Who would risk his money in a place like this? I think even illegal casinos in other parts of the world have better systems and procedures. To make matters worse, while I was playing on a slot machine and had my money in it, the machine switched off. Other slot machines around me were on. There was no casino employee around. After a while, I spotted someone from the casino and called him. Fortunately, he restarted the machine with my credits still displaying. I have never seen this kind of a blip in a casino before.

I played on a couple of slot machine for some time. They seemed to have set very low payouts on slot machines. With gambling done, I went towards the food / entertainment area. There was a free dinner buffet. The food was of a better standard than the gambling going on there. The entertainment - four artistes dancing to Indian movie songs was not so good. I decided to leave. On the way out I asked them for a drop to Casino Rad. Their reply was totally unexpected. First, they told me that Casino Rad was probably shut down due to non-payment of royalty to the government and second, even if that casino was open, they were not in a position to drop me anywhere because they did not have fuel in their cars . Both the reasons were genuine. Casino Rad was actually closed and even Casino Royale was shut down by the government the following day. There was a massive shortage of petrol (gasoline) in the city leaving everyone struggling to carry on with their lives. The reasons for non-payment of royalty by the casinos did not appear to be genuine though. From what I saw in Casino Royale, the casino management was minting money.

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I left my day job in October 2013 and became a full time blogger. I love travel and hence a travel blog was the obvious place to start from. The result is desiyatri.com. I currently live in Bengaluru, India. - Narinder Singh.


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