Whilst new online casinos are popping up all over the place, physical casinos struggle to find footing all over as various governments implement strict gambling laws. Although India’s government has sternly cracked down on online gaming operators, it can be a lot easier to restrict and regulate physical casinos and gambling.
The Maharashtra cabinet, in a recent move, has confirmed the annulment of the Maharashtra Casino (Control and Tax) Act of 1976, an act which remained dormant ever since its inception. This action comes to halt the ongoing speculations about the possibility of legalising gambling within the state.
The Act was intended to oversee and regulate the casino operations within the state. Despite its aim to specify definitions, restrictions, penalties, and age of entry at casinos, the act was riddled with ambiguity and lacked clarity. This, combined with vehement opposition and the absence of explicit rules regarding casino operations, led to its non-implementation.
The Maharashtra Casinos (Control and Tax) Act, 1976, was established to regulate casino operations in Maharashtra. Any establishment in the state wishing to host casino games in public settings must first obtain a specific license, ensuring that gambling activities are conducted legally and are subject to appropriate taxation measures.
This Act provides clear definitions for terms like casinos and casino games. Moreover, it outlines the process for obtaining a license, with the State Government holding the discretion to grant or deny it after thorough scrutiny. Notably, once a casino is licensed under this Act, it is no longer subject to the older Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887. This signifies the Act's intent to provide an updated and streamlined approach to casino regulation in the state.
The decision to repeal the act, despite the growing demands from both the tourism sector and business communities to permit casino operations, reveals the state's firm stance on the matter.
An anonymous official from the home department shed light on the matter, stating, “The objections and criticism may have delayed the necessary compliance and rules. By eliminating the act, we aim to end any ambiguity surrounding the government's position.”
The discourse around the potential of casinos as a revenue source has been revisited several times. The finance and tourism departments, sensing the financial benefits, had even presented proposals for the same in previous years. Moreover, at least four such proposals have been pending with the tourism department from various operators, each citing provisions from the act.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s labour wing added to this pressure by penning a letter to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, advocating for the legalisation of casinos.
However, a second anonymous official from the home department provided a different perspective, revealing that operators keen on establishing casinos in Mumbai were resorting to litigation based on the Act's provisions. “With the act gone, there's no groundwork for any such litigation,” he commented.
Devendra Fadnavis, the Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister, had been unequivocal in his opposition to casinos. He publicly declared during the recent monsoon session of the state assembly that under no circumstance would casinos find a footing in Maharashtra.
Although there were whispers about the state's intention to scrap the eight-page Act earlier, it wasn't tabled in the session that culminated on August 4, 2023.
Highlighting the government's standpoint, Fadnavis pronounced, “The youth generation of Maharashtra is at the heart of this decision. There will be no casinos in the state.”
This isn't the first instance where Fadnavis has tried to squash the casino dream. Previous attempts were made in 2016 and as recently as January 2023. His resistance remains undeterred, despite entreaties from the Board of Tourism.
This development in Maharashtra mirrors a fluctuating attitude towards gambling across India, evident from the recent implementation of a 28% goods and service tax on casinos.
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