The beaches of Goa are almost deserted now. Gone are the bikini-clad foreigners and the hordes of Indian tourists surreptitiously clicking their pictures on their mobile phone cameras.The beach shacks have been dismantled and the Saturday Night Markets are done for the season. The monsoons are here.
Even a few years back in Goa, off-season meant that the seaside state would virtually shut down. Foreigners running restaurants and shops would head back home to get their visas renewed and most restaurants would down shutters as the waiters and cooks would head for summer tourist destinations like Ladakh, Manali or Shimla. Tourists, of course, were almost non-existent.All that, however, has changed. In spite of torrential rain at the Dabolim airport, the arrival area is full of drivers holding up placards and the flights are all full. Five-stars are reporting at least 75 per cent occupancy and the tourists are flocking to Goa, or one should say, the casinos of Goa.Tourists from North India and states like Gujarat are still filling up Goa’s hotels as summer holidays there are still on. “With no other entertainment available, the men flock to the casinos at night,” says Andrew Sequeira, a tour operator.While the floating casinos (anchored ships on the Mandovi River that have been transformed into opulent gaming parlours) charge around `2,000 per person for a 12-hour package, the offshore ones situated at resorts and five stars charge `500.“After the government reduced the taxes on casinos recently, the entry fees have gone down, thus driving up footfalls,” says Sequeira, adding, “Once you enter a casino, you get unlimited food and alcohol and all that you have to do is play.”
Business is booming in spite of the five-stars hotels/resorts not offering their discounted monsoon rates yet. For example, at Vivanta By Taj, Panaji, a two-night, three-day package is currently selling for `13,500 with breakfast and one meal thrown in. Once the monsoon package kicks in, guests can avail of a third night complimentary, though without meals.While the Panaji Vivanta is the cheapest five-star and the closest to the casinos, other star hotels are also quite full. It of course helps that hotels like the Cidade De Goa have in-house casinos where guests can enter free.Most of the floating casinos, which are the favoured gambling joints, have tied up with the five-stars. The Casino Royale, for example, has tied up with every starred hotel and resort in North Goa. There are similar tie-ups with the Grand Hyatt, Vivanta by Taj, Panaji and a handful of others.“These tie-ups are very popular. When people come to Goa with their families, and if they take the casino package, they do not have to think of booking their stay separately and then plan on visiting the casino. Everything is done for them. The gambler is happy and so is the family,” says Syed Shazmeen, a PR executive at one of the floating casinos.Shazmeen adds that while the men spend their time on the gaming decks, the ladies can take in the entertainment and unlimited buffets if they do not want to gamble.
“According to our estimates, around 5,000 people are visiting the casinos of Goa every day these days. And that’s quite a lot,” says Govind Mapsekar, who not only operates tours but also runs a fleet of luxury taxis in the state.With most casinos having a kids’ room with attendants, nannies and lots of toys, including Nintendo and X-Boxes, parents can actually take their children along.The entertainment for adults, when they want to take a break from playing, is of a different kind. Starting from the mundane karaoke and locals bands to sexy belly dancers, the casinos ensure that the guests do not have to go anywhere else for entertainment.And for the really high flyers, the floating casinos even have helipads so that the hoi polloi do not have to rub shoulders with mere mortals.Though Goan casinos have a poor win rate — 8-10 per cent compared to around 20 per cent in international casinos — the gamers aren’t complaining.
“I have lost `3 lakh in the last two days, but when one enters a casino, one has to take for granted that whatever money you have is already gone. If you win, it’s a bonus. It’s intoxicating man. Believe me, you do not want to leave, whether you win or lose,” says Sachit Jain while he waits for his drop off vehicle to arrive outside Casino Royale, the most opulent floating casino in Goa.While Sachit is part of the casinos’ rich clientele who can take the loss of a few lakhs without flinching, there have been cases of people running up huge debts and even mortgaging homes to satiate their gambling urge.“I don’t think you can blame the casinos. Yes, gambling is a vice, but so is smoking and drinking. We don’t see the government closing down bars. Besides, the government makes a whole lot of money out of taxes from casinos and the industry employs hundreds of local youths. I think it’s a win-win situation,” says a 26-year-old dealer at one of the on-shore casinos who wished to remain unnamed.It is common knowledge that at the end of the day, the House (casino) is always the winner, but that has never deterred gamblers.
“I won `40,000 the first time I entered a casino. That was a few years back. Since then I have lost around a lakh for every `50,000 I have won,” says Anchal Sharma, who confesses to being a habitual gambler.The other reason, of course, is the rising dollar rate. With foreign trips becoming too expensive, many are opting for a far cheaper holiday in Goa. And the money saved often ends up in the casinos.While trips to Old Goa, spice gardens, river cruises and eating out takes up the days and evenings, the nights are taken up by baccarat, black jack and roulette. It also helps that the casinos are open 24 hours and will be happy to drop you to your hotel once you have had enough.