The off-shore casinos anchored in the River Mandovi and the dinosaurs, which have disappeared from the face of earth, may have at least one thing in common if one observes the present situation governing the floating gambling vessels.The off-shore casinos could soon become extinct from Goa, like the dinosaurs, for they may not be able to adapt themselves to the changing environment. The Commissionerate of Commercial Taxes, the Captain of Ports as well as the Association of the Offshore Casinos – the three main stakeholders linked to the off-shore casinos, have more or less supported the above view.
The Commissioner of Commercial Taxes, Mr Vallabh Kamat, speaking to ‘The Navhind Times’ on Tuesday said that his department never had any projections for the revenue generated through the off-shore casinos and hence cannot exactly pin point how much reduction has taken place in terms of this revenue, over the years. “However, there is a lot of dead investment on these crores of rupees worth off-shore casino vessels, which involves high salaries for two captains of each such vessel, fuel required to run these vessels throughout their functioning period and so on,” he stated, adding that even if the off-shore casinos make sizeable profits, these dead investments would cut into them.
Speaking further, Mr Kamat said that contrary to the belief that the Commissionerate has earned lot of revenue from the off-shore vessels, the taxes only started coming in after March 2007 when the Goa Gambling Act was amended to include provision for entertainment tax on the off-shore casinos.
“Earlier, when the Caravela off-shore casino started its operations around 2001, it did not have to pay any taxes to the government due to the absence of provisions in the Goa Gambling Act,” the Commissioner of Commercial Taxes stated, informing that in the year 2006 the first amendment to the Act helped the Commissionerate to collect arrears of around Rs 53 lakh from Caravela for the period 2001-2005, in the form of tax on river cruise. “However, it is only after the second amendment to the Act that provisions for taxes on entertainment and food came into existence,” he noted.
Presently, three off-shore casinos namely Casino Royale, Pride of Goa and Casino Carnival are functional, with the third off-shore casino run by Goa Marriott Resort commencing its operations from August 15, 2010. The Home department collects an annual fee of Rs 5 crore from each off-shore casino.
The Captain of Ports, Captain James Braganza told this daily that the off-shore casinos in River Mandovi could gradually die out if one goes by the present scenario. “The Caravela management has folded the operations and gone away last year, while the Arabian Sea King vessel is under repairs in a shipyard since past two years,” he observed, adding that the Leela Casino as well as Boa Sorte Casino are limping in business.
“As regards the government decision to shift some of the off-shore casinos to the Eastern side of the Mandovi Bridge, the CoP would take related action only after the High Court order, expected anytime later this week,” Captain Braganza stated. He also refuted any plans to provide additional jetties to the off-shore casinos, which would be moved to the Eastern side of the Mandovi Bridge, pointing out that the feeder boats will have to commute the passengers from the existing jetties assigned to them.
“In fact, the CoP has already received financial sanction for constructing new jetty on the Panaji side after completion of which we would have a jetty twice the size of the present one,” Captain Braganza said, mentioning that the tendering process for the same would start very soon.
Meanwhile, the spokesperson of the Association of Offshore Casinos, Mr Narendra Punj said that the decision of the government to increase the entry fee to the off-shore casinos by ten-fold from Rs 200 to Rs 2,000 has forced most of the visitors to the off-shore casinos to keep away. “The Caravela off-shore casino has already packed bags while the Leela Casino, during its operation was struggling hard to break even,” he said, noting that such a situation may force not only the Leela Casino but many others to shut their shops permanently.
Reacting to the decision of the government to shift some of the off-shore casinos away from the city, Mr Punj said that this decision would also have negative impact on the business. “As one can clearly see, the increase in the number of off-shore casinos has divided the market share in the business as well as split the profits, which is a thing of concern,” he concluded while observing that in the process neither the casino owners nor the government will be able to earn substantial revenue.