Indian gamblers have been benefitting on gambling cruise boats for years. Unlike real money online casinos which remain a grey area in the realm of Indian gambling law, gambling cruises are legal for betters to wager at in various states. The idyllic Mandovi River in Goa has become the epicenter of a burgeoning controversy. Local boat cruise operators have expressed grave concerns regarding the continued operation of small vessels transporting passengers to offshore casinos, in apparent defiance of weather warnings issued by the Captain of Ports (CoP) and the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA).
Aakash Madgavkar, a spokesperson for Goa Boat Cruises, has emerged as a vociferous critic of these ongoing operations. He highlighted the persistence of these 'casino shuttle' vessels, which have reportedly been running non-stop, even during the precarious period from June 9 to 12. This period coincided with a high wave alert along Goa's coastline issued by the SDMA, advising the suspension of all near shore activities.
Madgavkar underscored the potential danger these actions pose, stating, "This apparent disregard of orders from the SDMA and the CoP department raises significant safety concerns for locals, tourists, and our staff." He urged the SDMA to apply greater scrutiny and enforcement of safety regulations to mitigate the risk for all individuals involved in the future.
Parallel to these safety concerns, the financial aspects of the boat cruise and casino industry are set to undergo a significant transformation. The Captain of Ports has proposed a sweeping revision of mooring fees, jetty rental charges, and rents applicable to a diverse range of vessels, including casinos, floating restaurants, and river cruise boats, among others.
This proposal, pending governmental approval, is part of a concerted effort to bolster the department's revenue streams. Vikas Gaunekar, the CoP representative, elucidated the creation of five distinct vessel categories, each corresponding to unique monthly mooring fees and rents. For instance, floating establishments such as offshore casinos and restaurants are set to pay a steep Rs 500 per sqm every month for mooring in waters governed by the CoP.
Furthermore, Gaunekar indicated a significant increase in jetty space rental charges. Casinos, which previously paid a range of Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 per month, will now be facing a hefty Rs 3,000 per sqm fee for utilizing office and reception space on the jetties.
There are also increased costs associated with riverine land use for various activities, including marine workshops, dry docks, unloading of fishing nets, and the installation of fishing cages. An additional penalty of 5% is poised to be levied for those failing to renew permissions before expiration, accompanied by an inspection fee of Rs 1,000 for each annual renewal.
These unfolding scenarios depict a rapidly changing boat cruise and casino industry landscape in India. The call to arms for greater adherence to safety standards is echoed alongside the anticipated increase in operational costs. How the industry adapts and navigates these uncharted waters will undoubtedly shape its future trajectory. Whether it can weather the storm of regulatory changes and heightened costs remains to be seen, promising an intriguing spectacle for all stakeholders involved.
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