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Cash Starved Meghalaya Bets On Boosting Revenues With Gambling Tourism
State Gov’t Expects Tax and Employment Generation from Licensing Offline and Online Gaming.
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Last year, the ‘Abode of Clouds’, as the scenic mountainous north-eastern state of Meghalaya is known, adopted a new Gaming Act and backed it up with the Regulation of Gaming Rules Act, replacing the Meghalaya Prevention of Gambling Act, 1970, to allow licensing of offline and online games of skill and games of chance. According to the state’s Minister for Law and Taxation James P. K. Sangma, the government expects the new regime on gaming to raise tax collection and to generate numerous new job opportunities by boosting tourism in Meghalaya.
“As we have seen in many states, this venture has positive impacts not just in terms of GST revenues but also in terms of generating a lot of employment opportunities from the vibrant tourism industry,” Minister James Sangma said.
Gaming Legalisation Sparks Controversy
The Meghalayan government’s move to legalise offline and online gambling and betting was not received well by some political and religious organisations in the predominantly Christian state which sparked controversy on the subject.
“The aim of the state government to open casinos in the state and make the state famous for its gambling cannot be accepted as we all know the Meghalaya people have never accepted such games of chance,” stated former Member of the state’s Legislative Assembly and current president of newly formed Voice of the People Party (VPP) Ardent Miller Basaiawmoit.
“Online gambling and casinos might generate a lot of revenue for the government but the bigger question is whether people are willing to pay the price and are they ready to bear the repercussions of such an endeavour on the society at large. The leaders and the government functionaries of the state should deeply introspect before jumping head on with excitement without considering the destruction it may cause to the present and future generations,” said a statement by the Meghalaya United Christian Forum (MUCF).
According to MUCF Secretary Synsharlang Kharshiing, the legalisation of gambling and betting in the state will have “far-reaching consequences” on the well-being of young and vulnerable citizens and families of all communities and beliefs.
Possibly due to the pressure exerted by these and other organisations like the Khasi Jaintia Christian Leaders Forum (KJCLF) and the Hynniewtrep Youth Council (HYC), Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad K. Sangma stated that the opening of casinos would be allowed only along the border with Assam, and such establishments will operate only for tourists and visitors to Meghalaya.
“In these casinos, locals won’t be allowed. Strong regulations will be put so that locals can’t come in and, if they do, then it will lead to the operator’s licence being cancelled. A proper monitoring system will be in place,” CM Sangma said.
Is Gaming Legalisation and Regulation Bad?
The new gaming legislation is not actually introducing gambling and betting to Meghalaya, as such activities, legal like archery-based lottery Shillong Teer or “regular” lottery, and illegal such as unofficial gambling parlours, have existed for years or even decades. The implementation of last year’s Acts will only regulate these activities and make them traceable and safer, and instead of having the government’s eyes closed to illegal gambling, people will be able to get educated about the risks that come with such activities.
As stated by Felicia Wijkander, Chief Editor at SevenJackpots, “By regulating gambling in Meghalaya, yet another opportunity for education would be opened. Visitors of the state can enjoy local, licensed, fair gambling and will not only contribute to the economic welfare of the state by increasing the tax and “Gaming Royalty” paid by operators to the government, but they’ll also show that gambling can be enjoyed in a non-destructive way.”
“Opting for regulation instead of a blanket ban sends a clear signal that the government cares for its citizens and only wants a safe and regulated product to be available, rather than a black market, illegal, unregulated version,” Wijkander added.
CM Sangma has pointed out to the media that various forms of illegal offline and online gambling and betting have been taking place in the state capital Shillong and other places for the last 25 years and there are gaming parlours that continue to operate. As their functioning is not governed by any rules, the objective is to have them regulated as well as secure revenues for the state, the Chief Minister stressed.
"Let me be frank, we do need revenue. As we are a revenue deficit state, we depend largely on income and taxes that come from central government. In that case we will have a huge problem in the coming days and years as so many other activities are coming up and funds are required to run all of this," CM Sangma said, rejecting any possibility for the government to repeal the Gaming Act.
"If we repeal (the Act) then there will be nothing to regulate and we will only be losing close to Rs 8 crore to Rs 10 crore of revenue," he pointed out.