Casino gaming gets big in India

Heading to Macau or Las Vegas to try your luck in gaming? Look closer home!

The options may be limited, but efforts are being made to make the experience luxurious -- and the forthcoming World Gaming Festival (WGF) to be held Friday-Sunday in Casino Royale, a grand casino vessel that floats on the Mandovi River in Goa, will be proof enough.

WGF, a skill-based tournament, is a joint intellectual property of media company Percept Ltd and gaming company Delta Corp Ltd, which owns Casino Royale and two other licensed offshore gaming casinos in Goa.

"As far as I can remember, the gaming scene began in Goa in 1994 with electronic amusement machines on ground. So gambling (also called gaming) in Goa for a long time was all about slot machines. But as laws began getting amended, offshore casinos cropped up, and things have changed ever since. There are 13 casinos on land, and five off-shore casinos in Goa now," Narinder Punj, managing director (Gaming Operations), Highstreet Cruises & Entertainment Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of Delta Corp, told IANS.

Punj's tryst with gaming began 30 years ago in Baghdad when he landed himself a job as a croupier. There was no looking back since then, and now he hopes to see a boom in the industry.

"The gaming culture is growing thanks to James Bond's 'Casino Royale' movie. It generated interest in people, and even the increase in tourism to places like Macau and Las Vegas, where gambling is rampant, has fuelled the culture.

"A lot of teenagers and youngsters, especially in the 18 to 30 age group have taken well to Texas Hold'em Poker and the Indian Flush. They play it online or casually among friends. But we are also looking at other games like roulette, blackjack and baccarat during WGF," he added.

The Casino Royale also organises an India Poker Championship every alternate month.

But for WGF, which will also have music and dance attractions to keep people entertained, at least 600 participants are expected to be on board. However, to pull in more candidates for the event, the organisers had to slash down the entry fee from a whopping Rs.100,000 to Rs.20,000.

"After announcing a hefty entry fee, we realised people could get hesitant to come in. So we reduced the signing up amount towards the end, and we are glad people from Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, New Delhi, Punjab, Ludhiana and Jalandhar have come in," said Punj.

As far as the gaming industry in the country is concerned, Punj feels "we are on the tip of the iceberg".

"Sports betting gives us close competition, and we lose quite a lot of business during cricket tournaments. So there is a long way ahead of us. People have to understand that casinos and gaming is a way of life, and in India, people have just started accepting it."

With Sikkim and Goa being the only two states in the country where gambling is permissible -- that too with restrictions that live gambling tables are allowed only in offshore casinos and land casinos can have just electronic machines, only time will tell how the tables will turn for the industry.

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