Goa’s casino cancer reaches the terminal stage

Jose Pereira Coutinho, writes about the cost of casinos to Goa and its people. He gives the example of Macau where he is a member of the Legislature. He speaks of the casino industry as one which wants people to be happy and keep their mouths shut and not demonstrate.
He says in Macau, and it seems like it’s working but it means , means accepting “side effects like money laundering, prostitution, drugs and corruption.”
Ironically, a Goan happens to be among the world’s best-respected experts on the costs of casino culture. Jose Pereira Coutinho is the rarest of rare politicians – a non-Chinese who has been elected to the Legislative Assembly of Macau since 2005. A popular lawyer, he speaks English, Portuguese and Cantonese fluently (the last is preferred language of Macanese politics), and leads the pro-democracy New Hope party. Most significantly, the 59-year-old is widely respected for speaking truth to power, for “his frontal, fearless and direct approach” in protesting the social ills and economic lacunae that usually go unquestioned because of endemic corruption and the Chinese government’s urge to suppress any dissent.

Macau has been famous for gambling since the Portuguese made it legal way back in the 1850’s. Immediately after western-style games like blackjack and roulette were introduced in the early 20th century, it became known as “the Monte Carlo of the Orient”. In 1999, the territory switched hands from Portugal and China. And then everything exploded in 2003, when foreign casinos were allowed entry. Now at least 25 million tourists visit each year (the local population is just over 5,00,000), Macau is by far most lucrative gambling destination in the world. The administration and economy is entirely, hopelessly hooked on casino cash.

Coutinho is open-eyed about what has happened. He has said, “A kind of Faustian pact with casino operators has led to a growing divide between rich and poor. It’s what we call the price you pay.” The so-called “industry” keeps the level of employment high, even though most jobs are tenuous and stressful. It also bankrolls an annual handout of just over $1,100 to each citizen. “We want people to be happy and keep their mouths shut and not demonstrate, because we don’t like that too much. That’s the way it’s being done here in Macau, and it seems like it’s working,” says Coutinho, even though this means accepting “side effects like money laundering, prostitution, drugs and corruption.”

Casinos have done to Macau precisely what they are doing to Goa, and every other place. They metastasize. From small beginnings, they spread virulently throughout the system and then destroy from within by subverting all existing systems and processes. In 2012, Coutinho pointed out there were now 36 casinos in the territory, but the only hospital remained one built in 1874 by the Portuguese. Beyond the glitter and billionaires, at least 10% of Macanese remain mired in poverty. Coutinho says, “Only the rich get heard by the government, while the poor are ignored and suffer. All the land is reserved for casinos, and instead of building housing for the poor, the government is giving out more allocations for gaming tables.”

All this is directly equivalent to Goa, where every political promise made about casinos has immediately been trashed. The latest blatant insult is the renewed assurance (which will surely be broken) that “offshore” casinos have yet another “deadline” to move out from the Mandovi. Now they have been given till September 30. Previously they had till June 30. Previous to that, there were several different ultimatums in 2016 and 2015, and the solemn promise given by Manhoar Parrikar in the legislative assembly that the “floating” eyesores would depart by March 2014. They have not moved, and will go nowhere. Meanwhile, one more is being added, backed by highly controversial Haryana politician, Gopal Kanda.

The same excuse trotted out for every extension is another blatant insult. The Goan electorate is repeatedly told the state has “failed to locate an alternate site for the casinos.” In fact, a ready made one has been in plain sight from the beginning – Mormugao. All facilities exist there to serve the casinos, including considerable land infrastructure, and superb access to the airport. Instead of wrecking yet another heritage river front, or pristine environmental treasure, all the blinking neon (and associated detritus) can be towed across to the port’s berths tomorrow itself. One step and problem solved. A win for all parties, including the port authorities who are currently fatally fixated on coal.

Unfortunately for Goa, that is not how casinos work. Win-win is the opposite of everything they stand for. It matters not that they are universally loathed across every strata of the state society, because their pipelines of cash feed directly into the pockets of every state decision-maker. One would have thought the BJP, with its high-minded rhetoric about morality and Indian values, might have at least kept its own campaign promises in this regard. Instead it has become the main culprit.