In India, we currently have legal casinos in two states – Goa and Sikkim – with politicians in Punjab hoping their state becomes the third. I will discuss these later in this article, but first let’s talk about playing online, where the situation is different.
Due to legal reasons, there are no companies who operate online casinos in India . Instead, our residents use foreign websites, who offer a safe, legal and licensed option. This is actually very easy to do. There are many gambling sites that accept Indians. Most of these are based in other countries and are easy for Indians to join and play at. These sites support multiple languages, as well as multiple currencies including INR. The two best options are listed below.
Of the two options above, Dafa888 is the easiest to use. They are owned by Asian Logic, one of Asia’s largest gaming operators. Asian Logic have branded betting shops throughout the Philippines under the name “Mega Sports World”. Their Dafa brand is headquartered in the same country but caters for players worldwide. After joining their site, it is possible to deposit money by using your online banking account. If you prefer not to use online banking, you can also deposit by making a domestic transfer at your local bank. They accept deposits in Indian rupees. After you’ve deposited you can then use this money to play real money games. Withdrawals can also be made by bank transfer. ‘
The remainder of this page discusses physical casinos located in India. At all of these, you will find plenty of western style games including slot machines, roulette, blackjack, tai sai (sic-bo) and baccarat. At some you will also find Ultimate Texas Hold’em, lucky 7, pontoon, wheel of fortune, 5-card poker (Caribbean Stud) and war. The games that foreigners may not be familiar with are listed below.
While these traditional games are found in Goa, they’re not yet offered by any Indian online casinos. Unfortunately, at this moment in time, there are no well-regulated websites to play Paplu, Flush, and Andar Bahar online.
Map of India showing the locations of our casinos
We had a prohibition on casinos that dated back to times of British rule. This first came in 1867 with the passing of the Public Gambling Act. Today, this is a semi-controversial law. It was adopted after India’s independence. However, the Constitution of India (Seventh Schedule Entry 34 List II) gives states the authority to create their own gambling law. At first this was a non-issue as states only passed laws that made the penalties for gambling harsher.
The first Indian state to put the differences in the Constitution and the Public Gambling Act to the test was Goa. They modified the Goa, Daman and Diu Public Gambling Act from 1976 in 1992 and again in 1996. The first modification was to allow for government approved games of electronic amusement/slot machines in 5-Star hotels. The next was to allow for authorised gambling on licensed offshore vessels.
Gambling in upscale hotels was not too controversial. This attracted tourism to the country, something most politicians viewed as a positive. On December 2, 1999, the first floating casino Caravela was licensed, and – thus the controversy was born. This boat sat on the Mandovi River, and after opening, became available to both tourists and locals. However, after six more vessels were approved for licenses, the issue became a topic of heated political debate.
A US diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks perhaps settles the debate. It claims both the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were equally responsible for promoting gambling in Goa, but each was against it when they were in opposition. It was the Congress Party who first amended the laws to legalize gaming. The BJP vehemently opposed this. However, once the BJP came into power, chief minister Manohar Parrikar granted a license for Casino Goa early in his tenure.
A lot of the debate since has been vote jockeying. However, this has had led to some changes. In 2011, five of the seven offshore licenses were abruptly cancelled. This was however appealed.
After the BJP regained power in 2012 more changes came. The per head tariff to be paid was reduced from Rs. 2000 to Rs. 500, but the annual licence fees were increased. The new licence fee is Rs 6.5 crore per year for offshore, and Rs 2.5 crore per year for land based entities. Between tariffs and licensing fees, in the fiscal year 2012-2013, Goa casinos were worth Rs 135.45 crore to the state government.
As far as visiting Goa is concerned, this is something I highly recommend. It is a beautiful area with great beaches, resorts, fine dining and plenty of entertainment. Do however be advised that there is an entry-fee for all casinos in the state. The official tariff is Rs.500 and this is what the onshore ones located in 5-Star hotels most often charge to enter.
Some, and this includes all of the offshore ones, charge a higher entry fee but it includes items such as one-time gaming chips, unlimited buffets, spa packages or other perks. In many cases the price is higher and includes more perks on the weekend, and is pretty straight forward during the week. In the following sections below, I’ve assembled some details on the properties in Goa that are operational as of April 2013.
Goa has a mix of onshore and offshore casinos. Pictured l to r: Casino Carnival, Majorda Resorts, Crown Goa, Casino Royale
Panaji, Tiswadi, Goa
Dona Paula, Tiswadi, Goa
In Dona Paula, Tiswadi, Goa there are two onshore casinos that are affiliated with each other.
There are several places to gamble in Bardez including those listed below.
Varca, Salcete, Goa
Rajbag, Canacona, Goa
Bogmalo, Mormugao, Goa
Sikkim is located in the Himalayan Mountains and borders Nepal, China’s Tibet Autonomous Region, and Bhutan. In spite of the fact there is no airport in the region, building a casino here did make sense. Many wealthy Indians traveled to nearby Nepal in order to gamble there. This was due to the fact that there were no options available in India, apart from Goa. Having watched the situation in Goa play out for a long period, the state government passed the laws required in 2008. By doing this, local government managed to attract more of India’s elite who had previously gone across the border to fulfill their gambling needs.
Casino Mahjong was the first to open in Sikkim in 2009 and is designed with a Tibetan spiritual theme. It’s located inside the Mayfair Hotel which is highly rated on TripAdvisor. They offer slot machines, roulette, blackjack, baccarat, Caribbean Stud Poker and a Texas Hold’em card room. They also offer a version of Paplu called Marriage, and three different version of Flush which are Indian Flush, Mini Flush and a Russian version called Kitty. Worth noting is all games use human dealers, as opposed to the electronic games found in Goa. There are also nightclubs with international dancers with themes ranging from contemporary and Arabic, to Egyptian and Retro.
The Mayfair Hotel in Sikkim plays home to Casino Mahjong, the largest in the state.
A small note for foreigners: visiting Sikkim requires obtaining a Restricted Area Permit (also known as Inner Line Permit). This is rather simple, can be processed in around 10-minutes with two passport-sized photos, and a simple application. This is however something you should plan on obtaining when mapping out your trip.
At the time of writing this article, the only states in India with casino gambling are Goa and Sikkim. However, with the industry now maturing, states are beginning to recognize their legal rights to have their own gambling laws. Just as Sikkim has gotten in on the action, other Indian states are at least considering whether or not they should do the same. Currently, Sikkim is marketing primarily to the wealthy dual citizens from major cities. If a casino existed in these cities, the states could keep the revenue themselves.
The current biggest push is coming from Punjab’s deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Bada. He made his idea of building a casino in Mattewara –a village which is near Ludhiana – public in August 2012. In April 2013, he led a group of party legislators and ministers on a Goan retreat to discuss ideas. This same month he asked Punjab Infrastructure Development Board (PIDB) to draft a report on the feasibility of building a Las Vegas style casino in the state. The Economic Times recently quoted the deputy CM as saying:
“Punjab has a huge diaspora. These non-resident Indians come home and seek entertainment avenues like those found overseas. We would like Punjab to be like any other international destination.”
While he is no doubt very gung-ho about Punjab lacking recreational appeal, this may prove to be an uphill battle. Sikhism is the predominant faith in Punjab and gambling is against Sikh principles. It may be difficult to draw enough support; however it would bring much needed tax revenue. It will be interesting to see if the deputy CM will be successful in making Punjab the next Indian casino hotspot, or if another state will beat them to the punch.