Goa – A Paradise for Casinos

Casino laws at Goa India

For the gambling enthusiasts in India out there, it is going to be a little disheartening to come to terms with the fact that out of the 29 states in the country, only a mere 3 states allow casinos.  Namely, these states are Goa, Daman and Sikkim.

And even here, they are allowed only under a stringent set of terms and regulations. As per the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act 1976[1], casinos can only be setup in five star hotels or offshore vessels with the prior permission of the Government. I think we all know how one is expected to procure this “prior permission” from the Government, but that is a topic better left for another article.

Thanks to the aforementioned rule, there are only a handful of legitimate casinos in the country. In fact, they are so few in number that we might as well enlist them here. The State of Sikkim has two casinos, namely, Casino Sikkim and Casino Mahjong. Goa boasts ten casinos, six of these are based on land and the other four are floating around on the Mandovi River. The Deltin Group, who own and operate two of the four floating casinos on the Mandovi River, have already recognized the profitable potential of opening up a casino in Daman and it is expected to be active soon.

Goa – Pearl of the Orient

It is now quite clear that Goa is undoubtedly and comparatively the biggest gambling hotspot in the country. Since it hosts 10 legal and recognized casinos, it is not surprising that it also accounts for majority of the land-based gambling activity in the country.

Compared to bordering states like Karnataka and Maharashtra, Goa has a very weak population of approximately just 1.4 million people. In contrast, Karnataka is estimated to have a population of 61.1 million and Maharashtra is estimated to have a population of 112.4 million.

Despite this fact, Goa still leads the charts in terms of gambling activity. Following in second place is the State of Sikkim, Goa and Sikkim together make up for almost 90% of all the legal gambling that takes place in the country.

Goa is especially successful because it allows land based casinos and offshore vessel casinos. These vessels are basically boat casinos that operate offshore. The boat casinos have a significant advantage over land-based casinos, they are allowed board games which are not legal in land based casinos. The gambling law in effect in this part of India is called Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act of 1976 [2]. Below are the exact words that the law quotes.

26[13A.Authorised Game.- (1) Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, the Government may authorised any game of electronic amusement/slot machines in Five Star Hotels 27 and such table games and gaming on board in vessels offshore as may be notified} subject to such conditions, including payment of such recurring and non-recurring fees, as may be prescribed.

Is it legal to go to a casino in Goa, India?

These four lines that the Goa legislative council slipped into section 13 of the Public Gambling Act of Goa back in 1992 [3] is what makes gambling and casinos legal on Goan soil and Goan waters.

It is also responsible for attracting millions of Indian and foreign tourists to Goa throughout the year.  The original amendment that effectively legalized some forms of gambling (slot machines and games of electronic amusement) in five-star hotels in Goa, Daman and Diu was drafted and introduced in 1992 by the State Government [4] at the time which was led by Raj Naik.

The second amendment which deals with off-shore casinos and essentially allows these off-shore casinos to operate in Goa was drafted and introduced in 1996 by the State Government and the Chief Minister at the time – Pratapsing Rane. Nonetheless here are all the legal websites were Indians can play online slots.

Some of the more orthodox politicians in the recent past have attempted to thwart these amendments and gambling in Goa in general.

Former Chief Minister of Goa and the current incumbent Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, in 2012 [5], had declared that several of the boat casinos that were active in the region were operating illegally and also made it very clear that any person who entered these illegal establishments were subject to prosecution under the law. What was perplexing was that Parrikar did not bother to shutdown these supposedly illegal casinos. He let them continue doing business and imposed small fines on all of their customers. Come to think of it, he had figured out an ingenious way to generate even more revenue.

In 2012, the latest Goan state legislation regarding gambling was officially adopted. The amendment to the bill was passed by the State Government under the leadership of Chief Minister Digambar Kamat. The newly added sub-clause served to legalize the transfer of licenses of off-shore casinos with paying an amount that could go up to a staggering 6.5 crore per license transfer.

This amount has been capped at 6.5 crores but starts at a meagre 2 lakhs. Once again, like Manohar Parrikar’s ruling, the amendment has proved itself as a great method of revenue generation. It has been proposed that the money raised by such measures will go into setting up gambling de-addiction and rehabilitation centers all across Goa which will help people that are suffering with addiction to overcome their vices.

As mentioned earlier, Goa is not very populous and it is also the smallest state in the country. It is financially inclined to rely on its thriving tourism industry [6].

Gambling and casinos directly affect tourism in this region and hence it is critical that such activities aren’t outlawed, if anything, they need to be encouraged and the procedure that dictates the opening and operating of such casinos need to relaxed and made easier.

Politicians recognized these facts and Goa became the first state in the country to legalize gambling and give out licenses to casinos. The minimum legal age to gamble was and still is set at 18. Like with most legislative subjects, there were two sides to the gambling coin, it had to face considerable opposition.

People that opposed the legalization argued that the legalization of gambling activity would not really have such a stronghold on the tourism, they were under the impression that the tourism industry would not really suffer if gambling was outlawed, they maintained that the beauty of Goa – the beaches, the churches, the cuisine, the weather and the greenery far outweighed the perks of legal gambling from a tourists’ perspective.

The late eighties and the early nineties proved them wrong, very wrong indeed, Goa had started to see a decline in tourism, they had begun to lose their poll position as the country’s top tourist destination, this was mainly due to the illegality of gambling. Research showed that tourists had started to prefer Nepal over Goa, Gambling was legal in Nepal.

At this point, in 1992, thanks to the Raj Naik State Government, Goa passed the first of its two amendments to the Public Gambling Act. To reiterate, the first amendment allowed five-star hotels to provide slot machines and electronic amusement games [7]. A couple of years after the amendment came into effect. It was already evident that Goa had started to regain control of its tourism industry.

This encouraged a second more straightforward amendment in 1996 when Pratapsing Rane was Chief Minister. The second amendment further legalized table games such as Roulette, baccarat, and Poker [8] on cruise ships and boats that were vaguely referred to as offshore-vessels. Between them, the casinos not only proved invaluable in bringing the tourists back to Goa but they also each paid an annual tax of 5 crores to the Government.

Online Gambling in Goa

Casinos and Gambling Offshore in Goa, India

For the most part, online gambling in India is not exactly illegal [9], but at the same time, it cannot be considered fully legal either. It falls under the obscure grey area and the complexity is only increased by the fact that each state in the country has the sole discretion to rule on the matter.

The State of Sikkim has used this discretion and they have started issuing licenses to organizations that propose to setup such online casinos and gambling websites, once active, people from all states of India will be allowed to legally use them.

This includes the people of Goa.

Goa is one state where river cruise casinos continue to entertain thousands of customers on the Mandovi River. The state is home to around seven land based casinos set up after a modification of the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act of 1976 [10] was made in 1992 and once again in 1996. The 1996 modification of the act permitted gambling on offshore vessels.

Gambling in upscale hotels was enough to attract a great deal of tourists with the Caravela, the first licensed, floating casino to be launched on the Mandovi River. This followed with the launch of six more vessels [11]. The two major political parties, Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have been responsible for the promotion of gambling in Goa although they took opposite sides depending who was in opposition in the parliament. In 2011, five of the seven offshore licenses granted were cancelled but were reinstated after an appeal.

At the moment, despite the obscurities and complexities involving the legality of online gambling, it has been analytically determined that millions of people across the country still post bets online. Goa is no exception. The reason this is possible is because of popular foreign based online gambling websites such as Betway and Royal Panda. These websites are perfectly legal in the countries where they are based, and they accept bets from customers all over the globe, it is clear that they especially cater to Indian customers as they provide the option of representing monetary value in INR (Indian Rupees) [12].

The Goan State Government, State Governments of most Indian States and the Central Government have attempted to adopt measures to prohibit Indians from making bets on these international websites.

They introduced the Payment and Settlement Act in 2007 in which they essentially gifted themselves (The Reserve Bank of India) the unreserved rights to inspect, question and deny any online withdrawal or deposit made by not only direct deposits or withdrawals from bank accounts to other bank accounts but also transactions made through e-wallets such as Neteller or Entropay.

Despite the introduction of this law, it proved nearly impossible for the Government to monitor millions of on-line international transactions every single day.

Nowadays, if you use a normal credit or debit card to make a transaction to or from an online casino website, the transaction will immediately be declined by your bank. This problem can easily be overcome by using an E-wallet or a digital wallet. There are plenty of options such as PayPal, Google Wallet, Neteller, Entropay, Skrill and tons more.

After miserably failing to regulate online transactions, the Government have now turned to Internet Service Providers to get the situation under control. They introduced the Information Technology Act in the year 2000 [12]. This act basically instructs Internet Service Providers to restrict and block accessto certain websites. This list includes off-shore websites that could be used for online gambling. For some reason, ISP’s are yet to oblige, any internet connection in the country and any internet browser can be used to access websites such as Betway and Royal Panda.

Worry not!

Even if and when they do impose these restrictions, the internet is a free place and should remain that way. Indians will still be able to access any website they want by simply using anonymity networks which allows for anonymous and unrestricted browsing of the internet. The Tor (The Onion Router) browser is one such tool that allows a user to access any website from any location. It can be downloaded free of cost.

2015 – A New Beginning for Gambling in Goa

Goa’s new Chief Minister Laxmikant Parsekar announced a new casino policy at the beginning of 2015 [13], which was a stark contrast from his predecessor’s anti-casino stand. The chief minister acknowledged that the casino industry contributed significantly towards revenue for the state’s exchequer and said that the casino owners were free to approach the courts for legal recourse against any decision to shut down gaming abruptly. Parsekar’s divergent view on the industry has been welcomed by an association of Goa casinos.

Goa Casino Fee Hiked

The chief minister recently increased the onshore casino license fee for the second year in succession by around $80,000 and by $160,000 for offshore casinos. An application fee of around $32,000 has been introduced, from which the Goa government hopes to earn around $250,000 in additional revenue of $2,398,500 [14].

Sports Gambling in Goa

Sports gambling in India is a grey area. Horse racing has been widely accepted by legal authorities claiming that horseracing handicapping requires skill instead of fully chance, nonetheless the main reason betting in this sport is legal has more to do with it being a social accepted practice but only for that sport and non other, like cricket [15].

Top Casinos in Goa

With gambling still being discussed by law-makers Goa remains one of India ´s top destinations for gambling and betting. It has been for years with highly acclaimed casinos that Mumbai ´s and India ´s high class likes to frequent during holidays [16].

Gambling Laws Referenced in this Article

[1] [2] [10] daman.nic.in,  The Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act, 1976, 1976

[3] [4] [7] glaws.in,  The Goa Public Gambling (Amendment) Bill, 2012

[5] [6] glaws.in,  Amendment to the Public Gambling Act opened a Pandora’s box for Goa, 2012

[8] [15] glaws.in,  New Year, New CM and New Casino Policy for Goa, 2015

[9] glaws.in,  Gambling Laws in India, 2015

[11] nishithdesai.com, Setting The “Odds” Against The Legal Juggernaut, 2014

[12]  telegraphindia.com,  To Bet or Not to Bet, 2013

[13] heraldgoa.in, Has the Govt changed with a new Chief Minister?, 2013

[14]  glaws.in,  Goa Government Hikes Casino License Fees Again, 2015

[16] blog.ficci.com,  Regulating Sports Betting in India, 2013

[17] goindia.about.com,  Top 6 Goa Casinos, 2014