Shillong: Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma on Friday told the assembly that the intention of the government to establish gaming zones was to generate more revenue for the state, even as he iterated that the process of casino operations in the state has been put on hold in the wake of opposition from church leaders and social organizations.
Replying to a zero-hour notice moved by Independent legislator Lambor Malngiang, the Chief Minister said, “Our different sources of revenue, especially from the mining department have drastically gone down and there was a time when we used to earned to close to Rs. 600 crore of royalty and today those numbers have gone down to Rs 100 crore and our expenditure is only growing”.
Sangma felt that through the gaming industry the state could garner about Rs. 600 crore annually.
“We wanted to balance this entire process and ensure Rs 500 crore to Rs 600 crore revenue and also protect the people from different activities. Hence, we thought of having gaming zone at the border area so that our people are nowhere close to it. With that intention we went ahead with the process,” the Chief Minister said.
Sangma also informed that eight people have applied for licenses for establishing casinos of which three were given provisional licenses with a validity of 6 months from March.
“There was no opposition to the government’s decision to operate casinos when the proposal was mooted and so the government went ahead,” he said and reiterated that the government is not rushing into setting up physical gaming premises in the State.
Moreover, he said the issue of provisional licenses granted to three applicants does not confer any right to the holders to commence the games of license and games of chance in the State and the maximum validity of the provisional license granted is six months.
The Chief Minister also informed the assembly on the concluding day of the autumn session today that consultations with concerned stakeholders like church leaders, traditional bodies, and civil society organizations would take place before the government goes ahead with the implementation of the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act and Rules.
Further, he also said that the physical gaming premises are an added attraction, usually for high-worth individuals who have the means and resources to spend on safe entertainment options like gaming, when visiting the State for tourism and business purposes.
Clarifying to members of the House that Taxation Minister James Sangma had no intention to belittle the tourists visiting the state, the Chief Minister said, “the government and the minister are fully aware about the role of tourism in employment generation in the state and values all kinds of tourists who visit our state for various purposes.
The intention of the government behind bringing out the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act and Rules was only to come up with an enabling legal framework to regulate gaming in the State, it being a State Subject under Schedule VI of the Constitution”.
Stating that an enabling regulatory framework is a must to deter the unscrupulous operators from their clandestine gaming activities and businesses in the State, the Chief Minister said, “We are all aware that in absence of any legal regulatory framework, it is impossible to bring the dubious operators to book and the innocent fun-seeking players (including minors) fall prey to their illegitimate gaming operations without any legal recourse”.