We will issue an ordinance to appoint a gaming commission soon," Home Minister Ravi Naik told reporters here. Naik, however, said he wasn’t aware of the number of offshore casinos in the state.
"I do not know the exact number of casinos. I do not have the details with me. Perhaps the chief minister could tell you," said Naik, whose ministry is responsible for issuing licences to casinos.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls next month, the state government has been under fire from the opposition and civil society groups for pursuing a pro-casino policy that they claim is shrouded in mystery.
While the Congress-led coalition government had earlier maintained that only five casinos would be allowed by the Goa government, it subsequently issued licenses to seven operators. The casino debate took a more aggressive turn after Kamat said Tuesday that he could not put a ceiling on the number of casinos in Goa.
"There are 22 applications pending with the government. My top priority right now is to ensure that the casinos move from the Mandovi river into the sea. In my personal opinion, the casino vessels should go at least two nautical miles into the sea," Kamat had said.
The chief minister’s "personal opinion" was, however, not reflected in the cabinet decision that directed the casinos to move from the Mandovi River to a distance of up to one nautical mile into the sea from Panaji. "As long as the casinos move out of the Mandovi into the sea, the government has no moral or legal issues in increasing the number of offshore casinos," Kamat had maintained.
Opposition leader Manohar Parrikar told IANS that the government should come clean on its casino policy. "How can a government just keep increasing the number of casinos in Goa. There has to be some basis or an Impact Assessment Study," Parrikar said, adding that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would continue to campaign for the ouster of offshore casinos that were parked off Goa’s shores.
Parrikar had in the past also accused the chief minister’s office, the home minister and several bureaucrats, including former chief secretary J.P. Singh, of allegedly receiving kickbacks for issuing licences and hasty clearances for offshore casino vessels.
The Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) Tuesday night directed the six offshore casinos to suspend their operations for violation of air and water pollution norms.
The GSPCB notice issued to the four casino operators who run offshore vessels - Pride of Goa, Caravela, Rio and Maharaja - directs them to stop their operations until they obtain permission from the board. The operators have been given a week to initiate the licensing formalities.
The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) officials also raided the restaurants on board the offshore casino vessels late Tuesday and sealed the premises for operating without licenses.