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India – Maharashtra to cast vote on Mumbai’s gambling future

By - 19 January 2016

The Government of Maharashtra will vote next month on whether to introduce casino gaming to Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, a state of 112m people, by enforcing legislation approved 40 years ago.

The draft bill was approved by the Legislative Assembly and published in July, 1976, but has since been pushed to one side and forgotten about. The hidden legislation was discovered by a student at West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences. The only legislation before this was the Bombay Prevention of Gambling Act 1887 that banned all gambling except lotteries and horse racing.

Having come to light in September last year, the State home department has been analysing gaming legislation in Goa and Sikkim, including tax issues involved, before a final decision is made.
The Bombay High Court instructed the government to reach agreement on the validity of the legislation and suggest locations across the state, which could be turned into casino destinations.

Lawyer Jay Sayata said: “The Maharashtra Casinos (Control and Tax) Act, 1976, is a landmark legislation, which is likely to earn the government a handsome revenue considering the gambling market in India is estimated to be $60bn. Maharashtra is the den of illegal gambling. If the taxation on gaming is legalized, it could earn good revenue for State.”

Naturally the discovery of the legislation has polarised opinion on the best way forward.

Parag Jain, Managing Director of Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), whose Managing Director, has stated that casinos would boost tourism and therefore should be considered.
India’s Transport minister Nitin Gadkari however said that his ruling BJP party opposed casinos and that the state should not ‘tolerate such things.’

Other politicians have suggested that the Maharashtra Prevention of Gambling Act, 1887, needs replacing to better govern sports betting in the state.

In India, only the states of Goa, Daman and Sikkim state actually allow casinos.

Following two recent closures, Goa now has nine land-based casinos and four floating casinos on the Mandovi River. Casino Pearl at the Bogmallo Beach Resort in Bogmallo and Grand 7 Casino at O Hotel in Candolim both closed recently due to the expiration of their five-star category certificates.

In December, Delta Corp a company already involved in a casino in Daman on the Arabian Sea coast, was granted a licence to develop a land-based casino at its Deltin Suites hotel in Goa, marking the company’s first move into onshore gaming in Goa.Delta, who currently operates two floating casinos in Goa; the Deltin Royale and Deltin Jack, said the casino would be built alongside its five-star, 106-room hotel.

The Government in Maharashtra have also been viewing developments in the north east state of Sikkim where the Sikkim Legislative Assembly passed the Sikkim Online Gaming (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 in August. This allowed for the establishments of India’s first legal betting shops in the state.

The state government there have approved four main gaming and lottery companies; Sugal & Damani Group, Golden Gaming International, Future Gaming Group and Essel Group’s Playwin, to operate in the state.

Two of them have already opened ‘gaming shops’ in Gangtok whilst Golden Gaming is close to opening its 6,000 sq. ft. ‘gaming zone’ complete with “sports betting, Keno and virtual horse racing.
Sikkim opened its first casino in 2009 at the Hotel Royal Plaza, nestled high within the peaks of the Himalayas. In 2012, Casino Mahjong was opened by Gangtok-based Trio Ventures in conjunction with Orissa-based Mayfair Hotels & Resorts.

Kamlesh Vijay, CEO of Sugal & Damani, one of India’s largest lottery and gaming operators and a company active in Sikkim, said: “If other states open their doors to gaming businesses or if gaming or sports betting is legalised across the country, we’ll be the first ones to grab that opportunity.”

Opening a casino in Mumbai, the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India, would be a different proposition.

Grant Govertson, an analyst with Union Gaming said that India generates around $10bn a year in legal and illegal gross gaming revenue. “India, for the most part, does not have onshore casino gaming, which presents an opportunity for casinos to capitalise on continued wealth generation,” he said. “India likely has at least a couple of hundred million individuals who are wealthy enough to participate in casino gambling at some level.”

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