Goa: High Court orders casinos to pay Rs. 321 crores license fees pending during pandemic

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The Goa bench of the Bombay High Court on Thursday denied pleas from the casinos’ running businesses who had objected to government directives requiring them to pay pending fees of Rs 321 crore for the years 2020 and 2021, when they were closed due to the pandemic.

The Division Bench, made up of Justices Valmiki SA Menezes and Mahesh S. Sonak, approved the State government’s request to waive the 12% interest each year and directed the casinos to pay the whole principle sum within four weeks of the ruling.

According to the High Court’s ruling, the State government’s decision to demand payment from the companies was neither arbitrary nor unreasonable. It was also noted that the fees levied by the State were the cost of giving up the petitioners’ exclusive right to engage in gambling activities, and were therefore not comparable to other licensor licensee relationships.

“It is apparent that the State Government, in this case, has only parted with its exclusive privilege and permitted the petitioners to undertake casino operations, which are otherwise not even the legitimate objects of any trade, occupation or business. The licence fee so-called is the price or the consideration for parting with such privilege, which is exclusively owned and controlled by the State Government,” the bench said, according to TheGoan.

The HC also noted that it cannot support the petitioners’ attempt to deprive the State of about Rs 321 crores in legal revenue, which will lead the burden to honest taxpayers or people in need getting less welfare and development.

The court further argued that, it is illogical to anticipate that these extra-commercial activities would be directly or indirectly subsidized by taxpayers, or that casino operators would be granted a waiver of Rs 321 crores under such terrible circumstances.

Back in December, Delta Corp decided to take legal action against the Goa government for asking to pay license fee for the Covid lockdown period. The Goa government had asked offshore casinos to pay the fees of 2020 and 2021 lockdown with interest.

Delta Corp along with other casinos filed a petition asking interim relief from the payment of fees during the lockdown period but were denied in the court ruling.

The bench further pointed out that a similar relief—not paying license fees to Goa’s bars and restaurants during the covid period—was not previously given by the court. In light of this, the court dismissed any temporary relief for the petitioner casino during the time of covid lockdown.