India, an increasingly gambling-loving nation

14 October 2013

From Economic Times


This Diwali, expect fireworks 'across the board', literally. As the well-heeled and the not-so-well-heeled travel overseas, gambling and poker in India is emerging as a major passion and casino destinations, the big draw. Even in their backyard, while some still indulge in the roll of the dice surreptitiously, new vistas of wager are opening up under state patronage across Goa, Sikkim and Daman.

In India, the business of casinos alone accounts for Rs 500 crore in revenues, says Jaydev Mody, chairman of Delta Corp Ltd, the biggest organised casino operator in this neck of the woods, with three offshore casinos in Goa and a planned casino and hotel in Daman. Mody would know since his company recently conducted a study to gauge why airfares to Goa go through the roof.

"We discovered that airfares were being driven up by people who specifically come to Goa to gamble, since around 30% of the fliers to Goa are gamblers," says Mody. While Goa, Sikkim and Daman are the only zones where gambling is allowed country wide, Goa accounts for 95% of the pie as the state government rakes up Rs 100 crore in taxes.

And overall, the casino market is growing at 40% each year for the past five years. When business opened up in 2001, Goa had just one ship, The Caravella, with 14 tables. But today, there are five ships with as many as 250 tables where one can play. Besides, there is the onshore business where hotels come attached with casinos, which dish out electronic board games, since The Gambling Act does not permit casinos on land to provide live games.

With changing regulation, expect more traffic. But somewhere, it rankles. Mody calls the India casino mart a mass market play since he witnesses several hundreds of people each day with small-ticket wagers, of say, Rs 8,000-10,000 per head. That's not even a drop in the ocean compared with the millions of dollars high rollers play with abroad.

Asian Gambling Destinations Top Wish List

For the widely traveled generalist Suhel Seth, however, Indians gamble all year around. It may not always be at Macau or Singapore or Colombo, but even surreptitiously at their own backyard, in their farmhouses in metro suburbs or apartments in tony localities, like Delhi's leafy Panchsheel Enclave. Though Macau remains the big bet for Indian gamblers, Singapore is new and refreshing and Genting Highlands in Malaysia, a good way to unwind.

Though the number of high rollers who holiday in Europe like to visit exclusive clubs, such as The Ritz, Maxims, Aspinals, The Clermont Club and Crockfords in London, those crossing the Channel call the bluff in Cercle Haussmann, Paris and Casino Croisette in Cannes or Casino Barriere de Deauville.

Meanwhile, travelers to the other side of the pond have Las Vegas on their itinerary, though visa hurdles and the distance remain a dampener. This time around, it's not just the metro crowd that's joining the fun, but even B and C class towns are jetting to gambling destinations. Come Diwali, Sudarshan Singla, the managing director of Jai Bharat Tanks, takes his dealers to far-flung destinations in Asia.

"For a medium-scale manufacturer, these tours are a major motivational exercise at a decent cost and for the dealers from smaller towns, this is their one chance to have some fun, go sightseeing, shop, gamble a bit without looking over their shoulders," he says. In general, Asian gambling destinations top the wish list.

Macau's official statistics show that from close to 29,000 Indian visitors in 2006, the number rose to almost 150,825 in 2012. Figures from the first six months of 2013 mirror the trend. In June 2013, as many as 21,724 Indians visited Macau, an increase of 14% compared with 19,028 in June 2012. Large hotels like The Venetian in Macau aren't sparing any effort to deliver a smorgasbord of experiences.


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