The ruling INLD may have pushed the Haryana Casino (Licensing and Control) Bill, 2002, down the throat of the State Assembly at a supersonic speed, the possibility of casinos seeing the light of the day during the present tenure of the Chautala government is not very bright.

 

Many state officers, who obviously do not want to be identified, say the process of establishing a casino is unlikely to be accelerated by the MoU which the Haryana Industrial Development Corporation signed with a London-based company, Vistastar Leisure Private Limited, even before the Cabinet and the Legislature had approved the draft Bill, specifying the state policy on establishing casinos.

 

It will take years for any newcomer to meet the basic requirements laid down in the Bill before applying for a licence, which can be granted to a person who owns or runs a tourist complex without a casino (clause A of subsection 1 of section 8) or ‘‘has definite plans to set up a tourist complex and conclusively establishes that he has land, financial resources, capacity and experience to execute such plans” (clause B of subsection 1 of section 8).

 

The Bill defines a tourist complex as ‘‘a complex set up in the state with an amusement park, a five-star hotel and a casino, or a complex offering such facilities for recreation, sports, amusement, entertainment, health and relaxation, as may be prescribed, along with a casino’’.

 

Informed sources say such a tourist complex cannot be set up in a period of three years, which a licencee would have to do under subsection 8 of section 8. Of course, an extension of another two years can be given to him by the Excise and Taxation Commissioner, who has been designated as the licensing authority in the Bill.

 

An architect, Mr Harish Gupta, says a five-star hotel having a covered area of 1 lakh sq. ft. on all floors will take at least four years to be completed if the construction is done in two shifts of eight hours each. The Assembly elections are due in early 2005.

 

The statements by Congress leaders Bhajan Lal and Bhupinder Singh Hooda as well as HVP President Bansi Lal that if they came to power, the casino law would be revoked, are bound to create uncertainty in the minds of proposed investors.

 

A lot of procedural work remains to be done. The Bill is yet to become an Act. The rules are to be framed. The Government is yet to decide how many casinos will be opened in which area of the state. Before granting a licence, the Commissioner will have to inquire if the past criminal record or prior financial or other activities of an applicant, who has to deposit a non-refundable application fee of Rs 5 lakh, ‘‘poses a threat to the public interest of the state and to the effective regulation and control of gaming or creates a danger of illegal practices….”

 

The Commissioner will have to refuse the licence if it is found that the applicant is ‘‘receiving a substantial amount of finances for the proposed operation from an unsuitable source’’. A meaningful inquiry into all these aspects will take months.

 

Of course, Haryana has a tradition of completing all Togel formalities even before a scheme is formulated. When the HVP-BJP government was in power, the State Transport Department had accepted applications from influential persons for plying buses to Rajasthan even before the two states had reached an agreement and the scheme was notified. The final scheme stipulated that permission would be granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Naturally, those influential persons whose applications were accepted before the notification of the scheme walked away with almost all route permits.

 

Many view the HSIDC-Vistastar MoU with suspicion in the light of the above incident.

 

A licencee will have to pay an annual licence fee of at least Rs 1 crore, besides a security of another Rs 1 crore.

 

Sources in the trade say in addition to procedural and political reasons, the casino scheme may falter for another reason also: the parallel economy of India. They say a casino cannot be run merely on the patronage of small and casual players. It needs a strong support base of those big players who can win or lose at least Rs 1 crore in one go. Such huge amount cannot come from accounted money.

 

Anyone putting huge bets in unaccounted money in an Indian casino may find Income Tax sleuths breathing down his neck sooner than expected. This fear may keep big Indian players, who now patronise casinos in Nepal, away from those in Indian. In Nepal the fear of the Income Tax Department does not weigh on the minds of Indian players, some of them belonging to Haryana. The trade sources say one such big player has business interests in the fields of liquor and mining in Haryana. Another big player is stated to be from a political family of the state.

 

The trade sources say traditional casinos now have a competitor in ‘‘on-line casinos’’. Though Indian currency is not accepted by the on-line casinos, the sources say in metropolitan cities an arrangement has been worked out by hawala racketeers. Once an Indian on-line player makes a deposit with an on-line casino through hawala operators, a code is given to him. The code works as cash card.

 

The ruling party defends the decision to open casinos on the argument that the additional resources so generated would help fuel social development, an argument which totally contradicts Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of the need of purity of aims as well as means.

 

The Opposition apprehends that the casino culture would weaken the moral fabric of the state, already under severe strain from UP and Delhi-based criminal gangs fast taking roots in Haryana. The Haryana Congress President, Mr Bhajan Lal, says the epic battle of the Mahabharata, fought on the lands of Haryana, had its genesis in gambling. The people of the state, he says, would not accept public gambling.

 

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Prof Sampat Singh, while participating in the debate on the no-confidence motion against the government in the last Assembly session, accused the Opposition of opposing the casino Bill on the grounds of morality and not on a clause-to-clause basis. He also said the Bill was not legalising gambling but was only concerned with ‘‘gaming’’. However, Prof Sampat Singh had no answer to Mr Bhajan Lal’s query that if the Chautala Government, which was in the habit of naming everything after the former Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Devi Lal, was absolutely sure that the casino scheme was morally correct, would it name the casinos after the late leader.

 

The Parliamentary Affairs Minister also did not elaborate how the Opposition could discuss the Bill on an clause-to-clause basis when the Deputy Speaker, who was in the chair when it was moved, went ahead with the Bill at a speed at which he could not hear the pleas of Opposition MLAs.

 

Prof Sampat Singh will also do a favour to all if he explains if the Bill was concerned only with ‘‘gaming’’ and not ‘‘gambling’’ or why the Government felt the necessity of amending the Public Gambling Act to allow ‘‘authorised gambling’’ in the state.

 

 

 

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