Casino entry ban on Goans: Bombay HC upholds the law

Published on:

A division bench of Bombay High Court at Goa on Thursday dismissed a petition by a local law student who challenged the constitutional validity of the law banning Goans from entering the casinos. Goa has a mix of land based and offshore casinos which restarted recently after a long pause due to Covid19.

The ban on entry is under proposal since 2012 when an amendment to the Goa Public Gambling Act, 1976 (GPG Act) was passed by the legislative assembly. The 2012 amendment provisions were notified after a long wait of 8 years i.e., in February 2020. “Goans will be banned from entering casinos. I have already moved the file. For now, the GST Commissioner can enter the casinos at any time and ask for identity card if he suspects anyone to be a Goan,” said Chief Minister Pramod Sawant in January 2020.

Congress-turned-BJP MLA Atanasio Monserratte who has been fighting for shutdown of casinos said in August 2019 that if Goans are banned from entering casinos, the industry will automatically shut down within seven days. According to him, 90 per cent of the guests at the casinos are Goans.

The rules concerning the implementation of the law are still missing. In January this year, Chief Minister Pramod Sawant informed the assembly that the draft rules are under the consideration by the government.

‘Tourist’ under Section 2(7) of the GPG Act is defined as a person who is at least 21 years old, (including pilgrims), who is on a visit to Goa, and is not domiciled or permanently resident in the state, and holds a valid ‘tourist permit’ issued under the Act. Anyone without a valid tourist permit found gambling in a casino must pay a fine that is 10 times the fee for the tourist permit. The Gaming Commissioner has the power to issue ‘tourist permits’, as well as to authorise duly registered persons, agencies or hotels to issue permits.

Challenging these provisions of GPG Act, a writ petition was filed by Goan resident Mr. Sudin Usgaonkar. The petitioner claimed that the law discriminating tourists and non-tourists, who are permanent residents of Goa as violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Article 14 provides for equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Petitioner relied on several decisions stating that the classification must be founded on an intelligible differentia, which distinguishes persons or things that are grouped together from others left out of the group. Relying on past precedents, the petitioner claimed that there cannot be any classification based on region or residence.

Mr. D. Pangam, the Advocate General along with Additional Advocate General appeared for the State. The government argued that the activity of gambling cannot be equated with any trade or commerce to assert any fundamental right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation. Mr. D. Pangam further submitted that the classification based on persons domiciled in Goa and the class of persons recognized as tourists having tourist permit is well-founded and does not violate Article 14 of the Constitution. After hearing the rival contentions, the judgement was reserved on 11 October 2021.

Agreeing with the arguments of the State, the division bench of Bombay High Court held that the classification of goans and non-residents is justifiable. “So far as the restriction on entry into casinos to the persons domiciled or permanent residents of Goa as against the permitting entry to tourists and tourist permit holders, is justifiable for the reasons advanced by the State of Goa. Based on such reasons a valid classification has been made and such classification has rational nexus with the object that the law seeks to achieve,” reads the judgement. The Court also held that game activities on casinos are like gambling and cannot be termed as trade or business activity for protection under Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution that deals with freedom to practice any trade or profession.

“It is in the public interest of residents of Goa so also in the interest of State for the justifiable reasons. Thus, the decision to prohibit entry for the persons other than the tourist which excludes persons domiciled or permanent residents of Goa is a conscious decision of the State, considering its evil consequences on its subject,” reads the judgement.

Case: Mr. Sudin Usgaonkar vs. State of Goa
Writ Petition No. 72 of 2021
Bench: M.S Jawalkar and M.S. Sonak
Judgment Date: 14 October 2021