Troubled waters ahead for Goa’s offshore casinos

India’s legal landscape when it comes to casinos has always been difficult to navigate. The country’s official stance is firmly against casinos, with strict laws applying to the industry. Despite this fact, Goa has been able to run casinos on Indian soil for some years now. Or, at least, suspended on a body of water close to Indian soil. Because, in truth these casinos aren’t on land at all, they are built on boats moored in the River Mandovi. These casinos, of which Deltin Royale is the most famous, have provided cash games and many major tournaments to Indian poker players over recent years, even hosting WPT events too. Now, the future of these casinos may be in jeopardy.

Casino license renewal set to be rejected for Goa’s offshore casinos

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Offshore casinos like Deltin Royale could soon be relocated

In the face of continued public and political pressure, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant has announced plans move offshore casinos and incorporate them into the Mopa Airport project. In addition to this statement, the Commissioner for the Corporation of the City of Panaji (CCP) has declared that when offshore casinos attempt to renew their trade licences next year, they will be rejected.

Mayor of Panaji, Uday Madkaiker is the driving force behind the cessation of license renewals and has made it clear that he sees no positives in having casinos operate in Goa, saying casinos “have not come to give us free money, they’ve come to take away our money”.

The relocation of these offshore casinos has been planned since 2017, but the timeframe for casinos complying with relocation has been subject to 6-month extensions since then, raising the prospect that the casinos could remain in place for some time. That prospect now appears to be fading fast.

The goal: Relocating offsore casinos to the new airport under construction

Once completed, Mopa Airport will be the second Goan airport, constructed in 232 acres of land. This land will also be home to wellness centres, resorts and entertainment complexes with plans in motion to incorporate the offshore casinos into this land-based project. The casino industry has been openly supportive of the move and understanding of local concerns relating to waste dumped into the river from casinos and the cultural impact upon Goa. The airport complex seems like the perfect alternative, although there is one key hurdle which has been raised by Chief Minister Sawant.

In late July, the Chief Minister declared his support for moving the offshore casinos to Mopa Airport but added that only airport passengers would be permitted to use the casinos. This is a clear attempt to address the concern that casinos may drain money from the local economy, as a significant percentage of their customers are local Goans. The problem is that such restrictions would have a huge impact on the financial viability of the casinos as many of their customers would be barred from entering.

While there appears to be consensus on the issue of relocation, the logistics of the move to Mopa Airport still have plenty of scope for debate. The airport is planned to become operational in 2021, and with this latest statement by Chief Minister Sawant, it appears the riverboat relocation project will be fully underway before then.

Article by Craig Bradshaw