After a book on restaurants in Goa and another on historical fiction, journalist-writer Dinesh Patel has come out with a title on casinos. It looks at the scene both in Goa and far beyond. This is the first book in India of its kind. He shares with FREDERICK NORONHA some details about the book, and his views on the sector here.
How would you briefly describe Indian Jackpot?
Indian jackpot is the first comprehensive book on casinos that throws light on various aspects of the gaming industry, right from its world and Indian history to the types of casinos, different types of games, what to expect at a casino, what not to do, house advantage, gaming superstitions, among other topics.
The book gives an overall view and also features the tycoons of gaming industry and showcases the top twenty gaming destinations in the world, gaming nations and India’s gaming neighbours, besides gaming in India itself. The book also warns about the harmful effects of the casino and explains the evils of going overboard.
Could you be seen as promoting casino gambling? If so, would you see this as an issue?
I have made it aptly clear in the preface — “Do not Overdo What You Must Do” — that the book should not be taken as an effort to promote casinos, nor an endeavour to denounce it. We get what we deserve and if casinos have come to our shores there is more than one reason, than mere economic compulsion. I think it is a good facility to have, specially if you are entertaining guests who have not seen a casino. Again, casinos now give tourists the night-life option that was missing.
What is the state of casino gambling in India today? Has it lived to its expectations (of promoters, governments, clients)?
In all seriousness, casinos in India are a faint shadow of what it is in the West, and thank God for that! The casino industry can still be seen to be at a fledgling stage and at the whims and fancies of government institutions. When the gaming industry took off in Goa in the 1990s, a lot of entrepreneurs were keen to strike gold and join the bandwagon of what seemed a lucrative business option, supported by the government.
Today while the big guns have managed to stay afloat, smaller operators have fallen by the wayside. Faced with government policies and high fees, many casinos are shutting shop or stalling operations and awaiting government announcements at the Assembly session in March.
However it is the gamers, mostly from various parts of the country — specially Gujarat, Delhi, Haryana, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad — who are the biggest gainers from the undercutting and competition among promoters. Big players were often offered complimentary to and fro airfare, five star accommodation, food and beverage and even free non-negotiable chips.
What do you see as some of the problems that legalised casino gambling causes for a small State like Goa, if any?
First of all we must understand that any venture has its fallout and the casino industry should be no exception. But since Goa is a small State, regulation and implementation becomes easier.
While it gives employment opportunities directly and indirectly to thousands, it also becomes an irritant for those who understand casino as a bad word. The government may be making subtle moves to encourage the big fish gobble up the smaller ones in a bid to have few strong operators. I think some more casinos will have to go, as there is little room for so many operators.
There is much debate over whether or not the social and economic consequences of casino gambling outweigh the revenue that may be generated. Would you agree?
Unfortunately in India it is the flashing bright lights that often becomes the cynosure. Our country is plagued by greater evils like omnipresent poverty, rising illiteracy, unchecked overpopulation, unequal rights, unending corruption and what have you. But we will ignore all that and target somebody that has legally set up business, paying various license fees and adhering to the law.
Book him by all means if he trespasses the law, but don’t traumatise when his customers are in the house. Our hypocrisy reflects in our eyes. If we do not want any facility all we have to do is stand up against it at the inception, not raze it when all is done. Do we always have to say ‘yea’ to say ‘nay’ later?
Are casinos growing across India? In which areas? Which are the newest ones to open up (statewise)?
Goa was the first state in the country to have casinos, followed by Sikkim, which has two casinos. The third casino is likely to start operations soon in Daman.
Punjab too has been toying with the idea for some time and has even demarcated land at Mattewara village near Ludhiana, on the banks of the River Satluj in the rural hinterland, to start a Vegas-style casino strip, based on the Goan model of functioning.
It is interesting to note that apart from Goa, Sikkim and now Daman, gaming laws date back almost 145 years. The Public Gambling Act 1867 is still applies in most parts of the country.
Are their specific figures about what benefit the State gains from casinos?
It’s simple mathematics. If the state did not earn enough from casinos, the dice would have long stopped rolling. The licence fees are steep, about Rs 5 crore and then about Rs 1 crore as annual fees. Besides the tourism department can showcase casinos as the night life option for tourists.
If casinos for the rich could be legalised, for argument sake, what’s your view on the legalising of matka (two-digit gambling) for the poor?
Very simple. We all agree that in India the very rich and the very poor are the very privileged lot. They can do anything and get away, thanks to the neta, who need them.
Let us understand that casino gambling is a rich man’s game and the rich man is more often than not, quite educated. Even otherwise we assume it would be ill-gotten and soon-forgotten money. So who cares.
On the other hand the poor man is illiterate and dumb enough to pawn his wife’s jewellery to dream his win at matka. Legalising or not the government is losing crores of rupees, as there is no license or fees.
Many poor will drown themselves in a bar rather than work extra. Their thinking ironically has become the thinking of India. We may not be averse to hard work. The metro-based and other educated workaholics carry the aspirations of the country on their able shoulders, as the poor watch and even commit crimes to push themselves higher on the economic ladder, blaming all but themselves.
Who do you see as the primary readers for this book? What have been the responses like so far?
Basically tourists and those who want to understand the whole gamut of casinos.
Today the casino is not just a gaming den, various local, national and international performers, singers, dancers, stand-up artists, mimics, jugglers, magicians and even gazal singers perform at casinos which also regularly hosts various food festivals and events to lure guests, who may or may not play at the casino. Its a part of a five star culture where there is no compulsion whatsoever to play.
The initial response from promoters and insiders, besides common readers has been very good and heart-warming.