Panaji, March 27 (IANS) Once having resisted offshore casinos tooth and nail as a moralistic opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led coalition government in its budget has both slapped and caressed the increasingly powerful casino lobby in Goa.
In his budget speech, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar Monday reduced the entry fee to offshore casinos from Rs.2,000 to Rs.500, clearly paving the way for increased footfalls to the gambling hubs, but also increased the annual offshore casino licence fee from Rs.5 crore to Rs.6.5 crore.
While the casino industry has said the budget was against it, popular perception as well as the opposition suggests that the reduction of the steep entry down to a quarter would increase footfalls at the six operational offshore casinos parked in the Mandovi river, which flows along the capital.
"I propose that the entry fee for both onshore and offshore casinos to be Rs.500. With this, entry fees collected from offshore casinos would get reduced... However to compensate such reduction in revenue, I propose to enhance the licence fee of offshore casinos to Rs.6.5 crore per year, thereby bringing in additional revenue of Rs.9 crore," Parrikar said.
Parrikar said he had proposed a reduction in the high entry fee because it "leads to incidents of avoidance of payment of such fees" and there was no government mechanism to regulate and keep a head count on customers entering the casinos.
A spokesperson for the casino industry in Goa, Shrinivas Nayak, told IANS that the sector was the "unfortunate victim" in Parrikar's otherwise populist budget.
"The land casinos licence fee has been increased from Rs.15 lakh to Rs.2.5 crore. This is unheard of. Our fee increase is also not a good sign," Shrinivas said, adding that the increase in entertainment tax from 10 percent to 15 percent would deter investors to invest in Goa, which is evolving as a tourism and entertainment hub in the country.
"On one hand they want investors but then they hike taxes like this. This is a lesson for those who want to invest in Goa, perhaps they should think twice now," said Shrinivas, who operates the offshore unit Casino Pride.
Hubert Gomes, a dentist who contested the March assembly polls as an independent candidate from Benaulim, 40 km from here, said perhaps the "only flaw" in the entire budget presentation was the reduction in casino entry fees.
"The only thing I did not like in today's budget is (the) reduction of casino entry fee from Rs.2,000 to Rs.500. This will certainly encourage more Goans to visit casinos and lose their hard earned money," Gomes said.
Congress spokesperson Jitendra Deshprabhu said the reduction of licence fee was an ominous sign for the local population.
"They (BJP) have reduced licence fee for offshore to Rs.500. He (Parrikar) wants more accessibility to the casinos for Goan youth...Will the BJP women's wing which had accused the Congress of floating these casinos now oppose their own government and stop youngsters from frequenting casinos?" Deshprabhu said.
Parrikar, however, claims he will soon move a legislation which will restrict resident Goans from entering the offshore casinos.
"As a measure of prohibition on entry to all casinos operating in the state of Goa, I propose to bring an appropriate legislation to prevent the entry of residents of the state as well as youth under 21 years of age," Parrikar has said.
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