Deltin Royale is the largest ‘floating’ casino anchored in the river Mandovi in Panjim Goa. There are three other similar casinos in the river. ‘Floating’ here only means that its a big boat that can float but it is anchored or rather attached to the river bed using some means which appear to be more than a mere anchor. Once inside, you will never feel any jerk or movement to remind you that you are inside a boat. There are some serious issues involved here and since this article is about Goa’s casino industry, this is the right place to talk about them. Floating casinos in Goa are a testimony to the fact that politicians can mess up even the simplest of things. Logically speaking, there is absolutely no need to have casino boats in the river Mandovi. But politicians have brought them about and now nobody is able to figure out what to do with them.
Casinos have been there in Goa since long. Perhaps the oldest casino in Panjim is “Chances Casino & Club” in Dona Paula located inside a hotel called “Vainguinim Valley Resort”. I think later this resort has been renamed “Chances Resort & Casino”. ‘Chances’ came into being due to the government policy of allowing casino gaming in ‘five star’ hotels in Goa. There was a time when some actual five star hotels in Goa had casinos but now most of those casinos are closed. Why I say ‘actual five star hotels’? Here’s why: Politicians are not the only people who can mess things up, bureaucrats also can. The mess made by some bureaucrats brought about a class of so called ‘five star’ hotels in Goa which were rated ‘five star’ merely so that they could get a casino licence. You can easily verify this, just compare the room tariff charged by a ‘casino five star hotel’ in Goa with that charged by a ‘non-casino’ five star hotel. ‘Casino five stars’ are a lot cheaper and once you read their customer reviews you will learn about the difference in the quality too.
Why Floating Casinos
I said earlier that there is no logical reason of why there are ‘floating’ casinos but here is the actual reason: The casinos operating inside five star hotels were not allowed to use actual ‘playing cards’ (the 52-card decks) but instead were only permitted the use of gaming machines. If a casino game required ‘playing cards’, the cards would appear in front of the player and the dealer on video screens. This can still be seen in most over-land casinos in Goa. Now some smarter casinos have invented a work-around to this rule and have started using actual playing cards. The cards, coming out of automated shufflers, are physically dealt by the dealers but are not read by the dealers. The shufflers have built-in card readers and once a card is dealt, its value automatically appears on the video screens in front of the players and the dealer. The original rule of not permitting actual playing cards and the work-around are both dumb. The ‘floating’ casinos have no such restrictions. ‘Live’ gaming or so its called, is permitted in casino boats where actual decks of playing cards are allowed to be used. Again there is no logical reasoning as to why actual cards can be used in a boat but not over land.
It Started with Casino Caravela
Some politician in history gave a floating casino licence to a small boat called “Caravela” which was docked in the ‘Captain of Ports Jetty’ in Panjim. That boat was an actual floating boat and used to cruise around the river during live gaming hours. It was fun and hugely popular too, obviously making tons of money. And when a business makes tons of money, sooner than later there would be competition. Of course the power to permit competition was in the hands of politicians and instead of doing the right thing of permitting live gaming in over-land casinos, they took the dumb decision of giving away more ‘floating’ casino licences. They would not care about crowding of the river or the water pollution caused by the casino boats or even about attaching casino boats to the river bed by using pile foundations.
Unregulated Gaming in Casinos – the Other Serious Problem
Casino industry in Goa is big. In addition to the four floating casinos, there are over half a dozen over-land casinos. Yet, there is no law or system in place to regulate the conduct of gaming in these casinos. Every now and then some politicians make some noise about bringing a law to regulate casino operations but it has never happened. As a result, each and every casino is at liberty to have there own gaming rules and fix their own house-edge percentages. Slot machine games are a big area of concern. No one knows how much these machines are programmed to pay out. Tourists and even habitual gamers are not aware of the perils of gambling in such an environment but at present no one seems to care. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are placed inside the casinos that always tempt players to repeatedly withdraw money from their bank accounts and lose it all there.
Theft of Government Levy
The Goa government levies a fee of INR 700 for each person entering a casino. The casino is supposed to issue an official government levy receipt to the customers. In practice, however, several casinos in Goa take the money from the customers but fail to issue them the government entry levy receipt. That way they are pocketing the INR 700 from each customer that is supposed to go to the government. Some other casinos first give the receipt to the customers at the time of entry but at the time of exit, it is taken back and re-issued to another customer. Obviously, the bureaucrats in-charge of checking this are sleeping.
The Way Out?
The first thing to do for both the State and Central Government in India is to have a casino regulation legislation in place. The second Goa-specific thorny issue of having casino boats in the river cannot be solved by shifting the boats to another river as is being talked about. Casino boats should be shut down and their owners should be allowed to run their casinos from over-land premises, in or out of five star hotels. Next, an NGO backed system needs to be established to provide help to gamblers suffering from this addiction or other financial/psychological problems arising out of gambling. And, the ATMs need to be shifted out of the casinos like is done in Singapore. There, to withdraw cash, one needs to exit a casino and then re-enter. That sometimes provides a problem-gambler with enough time to have second thoughts about risking more money.
Do I really hope that any of this will actually happen? No.