Panaji : As it is in Macau, also colonised by the Portuguese, casinos in Goa are here to stay, thanks to the Indian middle class tourism boom and the attractive economic footprint of the glitzy industry, says one of the first published studies on the controversial industry in the coastal state.
The study, however, points out that efforts are needed to implement sustainable strategies and to counteract prospective ill-effects of casino gambling.
The research paper published by Dr. Afonso Botelho, an associate professor of Sociology at the Rosary College of Commerce and Arts in South Goa, in the latest edition of the International Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Systems, has also recommended setting up of an authority to regulate casinos on the lines of Las Vegas's Nevada Gaming Commission (NGC), so as to rein in "potential negative externalities".
"Casinos have taken strong roots in Goa and clearing the ever-growing forest of casinos is becoming more and more difficult as years roll by. The offshore casinos have almost fused with the landscape of Panaji making it almost next to impossible to visualise Panaji and the river Mandovi sans the casinos.
"At this juncture, accepting, despite all opposition, that the reality of Panaji 'casinoscape' will linger on into the future..." Botelho says in his paper, which advocates formulation of sustainable strategies in order to maximise gains from casinos and counteract its prospective ill-effects.
The research paper also makes a comparison between the casino industry and its socio-economic impact on casino havens like Las Vegas, Singapore, Macau, Monte Carlo, etc., in a bid to put the casino industry in context vis-a-vis Goa, where the first casino gambling operation began in 1992.
"The Goa government has facilitated the expansion of casinos in Goa. Casinos have been promoted in tourism areas due to their assumed capability of being the largest employers and their potential to attract a huge number of tourists who otherwise might not have considered visiting the said destination.
"Bringing in more tourists is seen as a source of potential revenue and a panacea to economic and tourism woes," Botelho says while drawing a parallel in the jump in tourism figures, as well as a rise in the revenue earned by respective governments in Macau and Goa via casino footfalls.
Based on the views of experts and casino owners, the research paper suggests that the Indian middle class tourism boom and the simultaneous increase in foreign tourist arrivals will see a rapid expansion of the casino industry in the next few decades and advocates that the currently "unshackled" industry needs to be regulated by an NGC-like Commission, which enjoys penalising powers.
Despite the fact that the first casino gambling operation began in Goa in 1992 with the amendment of the Public Gambling Act, 1976, there are no rules governing the actual casino operations for more than 26 years, literally giving casino promoters a free run for nearly a quarter of a century!
"Goans are aware of the potential negative externalities of casino development and would like them to be contained through necessary safeguards. The establishment of a casino controlling regulatory authority or gaming commissioner is absolutely necessary and the earlier it is established the better it would be," the study recommends while also putting the onus of eradicating the problem of gambling and encouraging gambling prevention programmes on the government as well as casino operators.
"It is necessary that the government exercise greater control over casinos by increasing the age limit for casino workers, thereby preventing dropouts from schools and colleges; putting in place a comprehensive master plan by the government..." the research paper states.
The study also advocates banning entry of locals or increasing the entry fees for entry to casinos, a practice followed in Nepal and in South Korea.