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Casino industry, tourism & eco growth

The issue for Goa cannot be onshore versus offshore casinos; critical question is whether casino industry should be an integral part of State’s tourism vision

Story: PRABHAKAR | TIMBLE | 05th October 2019, 02:28 Hrs

PRABHAKAR TIMBLE

The projection of the tiny State of Goa, well known for its natural and human assets for sustainable tourism as a casino destination continues to be a controversial issue. The local government seems to solidly back the casino stakeholders recognizing it as a prime mover of tourism and source of public revenue. With legalized casino gambling, the moral opposition to such gambling is gradually on the wane. The ‘disagreeableness’ to casinos appears to diminish with the argument that we need to provide all types of opportunities to tourists on vacation. At the same time, as the casino gambling popularity grows, the opposition also breeds as it is claimed to erode vitals of the community. In soft territories like Goa, the gaming regulatory mechanisms fall miles short to exercise effective control to protect customers, employees and environment. This ‘safe heaven’ perception and reality for professional gamblers and operators multiplies the threats of crime, criminal gangs, money laundering and social degradation.  

 Keeping the social fall out and moral implications aside, let’s attempt to understand the casino industry in context of economic growth and material well-being of the local community. Contribution to public revenue through taxation and fees is one major input on which government support to casino industry seems to be justified. The Goa government is currently caught in acute fiscal deficit and badly requires revenue from whatever sources irrespective of any meritorious grounds. The issue on which the government needs to come clearly is on the quantum of revenue mobilized from casino industry and its areas of utilization. If this revenue is channelized towards education and social welfare schemes, the end use could mollify the attack as the source is socially regarded as not respectable.  

 Growing unemployment is a foremost challenge and patronage to casino industry is sought as it generates direct and indirect employment opportunities. The employment is mainly in the area of security guards, gaming staff and technical manpower. In the absence of concrete data, it is not clear whether the casino industry in Goa has generated employment for locals and reduced the unemployment in the neighborhood community. There are employment opportunities but it is not ascertained that the workforce has come from the local areas. The indirect employment is through the demand created for hotel services and taxi operators. Whether casino industry results in more local sales in hospitality, entertainment, handicrafts and retail trade depends on the type of casino customers ie locals, domestic tourists and foreign vacation travelers. This data will throw light on the incremental customers boosting local sales. There are strong possibilities of casinos “cannibalizing” into other businesses whereby the spillover multiplier would hardly function. The money spent in casinos is money not spent at other markets and locations. The footfalls in casinos are drain on tourist falls at other sites and localities. A customer in restaurant and entertainment section run by casino will suck customer at other restaurants and recreational centers. It is such studies which will examine whether casino gaming industry contributes to actual growth or results in mere ‘transfer’ growth.  

We are all aware that in a casino, players cannot alter the advantage of the operators. However, the propensity for gaming and gambling exists. Despite better and sane alternatives of tourism, we are also choosing to promote tourism by making the society “stupid”. Such a course would have been on a strong standing if there were possibilities of neighboring states robbing Goa’s tourism flow by encouraging casino industry in their states. The current cross-border status is free from casinos, which means there is no potential of tourist theft or diversion by other states on account of gaming industry. This is a factor which could be weighed whilst making an assessment on requirement of casino industry in Goa for domestic tourists. For the international tourist, there are dream casino locations and the possibility of tuning Goa for casino gaming is the rarest of rare exception from foreign vacation seekers.  

 To put it straight, the issue for Goa cannot be onshore versus offshore casinos. The critical question is whether casino industry should be an integral and inseparable part of Goa’s tourism vision. What are the motivations of visitors to Goa and will the effect on quality and family tourists be salutary or negative with casino operators positioning the land of sand, sun, waterfalls, forests, heritage and tranquility as a paradise for professional gamblers.

 In Goa, we abound in alcohol. There is easy access to drugs. There is buzz of commercial sex activity. We top all this with an oligopoly market of casino gaming. All this aggregated may be giving immediate windfalls with insoluble challenges for the future of tourism and overall economic growth of the state. If Goa is going to provide a permanent seat to the casino operators in the state by developing it into a hub, we will have to discard the notion of gambling being immoral and sin activity. Presently, academicians and researchers are almost practicing untouchability with no research output coming out on this legalized gambling which can serve as basis of public policy. There are studies highlighting debts, depression and bankruptcy but no business and economic studies in respect of the industry in the state.  

 Casino is more popular with the politicians than the people. There are no scientific studies detailing economic benefits such as contribution to government local employment and ancillary benefits. Analytical data on the customer profile will provide clarity on the need-based argument for tourism. No authority can vouch on whether the casino operators are fully utilizing the banking channel or any secret channels in their cash management. No public policy and effective regulatory mechanism can evolve in the absence of accurate data on these aspects. Like any other industry, all aspects of casinos should be in public domain to guard against social disruption and economic dislocation.

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