Goa casino gamblers flout COVID-19 rules, outraging locals


Casinos in the Indian state of Goa have only just resumed operations but have already raised the ire of local residents who fear a pandemic resurgence spurred by reckless tourist gamblers.

Goa casinos – both the floating and land-based kind – were given the all-clear to resume operations as of November 1 following seven months of COVID-19 lockdown, but only at 50% capacity to minimize the likelihood of further pandemic spread among customers and staff.

Clearly there was significant pent-up demand, as the onshore offices and embarkation points of the floating casinos have quickly become a sore spot with local residents. Horrified locals report scores of gamblers clustering in groups on the streets outside the ships, most without wearing face masks or maintaining appropriate social distancing measures.

Uday Madkaikar, mayor of the city of Panaji in which locals board the floating casinos, said this past weekend that he would convene a meeting with casino operators on Monday (23) to discuss the lack of adherence to medical safeguards the casinos are supposed to be observing as a condition of their reopening.

Madkaikar originally said he’d authorized local authorities to liberally dole out fines of Rs100 (US$1.35) for each tourist caught flouting the rules, while Chief Minister Pramod Sawant announced that this mask-free penalty would double. Panaji officials have also clamped and towed “hundreds” of two- and four-wheeled vehicles that failed to keep traffic arteries free for use by local residents.

That’s still not enough for some state politicians, who fear the tourists will eventually depart but COVID-19 will remain. On Tuesday, BJP MLA Atansio Monserrate noted that other states such as Maharashtra had already made COVID-19 testing mandatory for visiting Goans “but here, it is free for all.”

Many locals were outraged when Panaji officials flip-flopped on their earlier pledge not to renew the business licenses of Goa’s six floating casinos. The pledge was seen as a means of forcing the state to act on its years-old promise to find the ships a new permanent mooring point but attorneys reportedly warned Panajji that it could face multiple lawsuits if it prevented the casinos from plying their trade.  

Goa had over 47k confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, of which over 1,200 remain active and 679 state residents have died to date.