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Casino Goan

Offshore casinos boost Goa’s tourism economy to a large extent. But, what goes on inside those shiny cruise ships on Mandovi River?

Suchayan Mandal | New Delhi |

If one has watched movies like Hangover it’s pretty normal to assume all bachelor parties happen at Vegas. After a long drive across an arid and rough terrain appears a neon-lit Vegas alive with clubs, casinos and cocaine.

However, in the Indian context, the scenario is quite different. To experience a casino, you won’t need to have a bachelor party or be addicted to illegal drugs. It’s simpler and easier just land up in Goa. This is among the few places in India, where gambling is legal.

Goa has four major offshore casinos at present. All these casinos are in the River Mandovi because offshore gaming rules are different and it’s convenient to operate. These casinos are operational on all days 24X7, but the major footfall happens during the evening. The demography of the players includes Southern states and Gujarat majorly. The casinos get their peak business in the months of October till January.

Having said that, ever wondered what it is like to play at a casino or what’s the estimated spend one needs to incur to get the experience? I got the answer abruptly last May.

It’s magical!

It was peak summer when I landed in Goa. The plan was to stay at the Old Portuguese colony of Fontainhas and experience the side of Goa that nobody talks much. However, the homestay we thought of staying in had no vacancy then and there wasn’t anything else available nearby. We got a hotel near Miramar beach.

Whoa! This location is magical. In the front, there is the sea that coils up as a creek and looks pristine. And on the right is the River Mandovi dotted with ferries and casinos. No sooner had the sunset than the casinos started to light up in all yellow. From a distance, the cruise ships that host the casinos started to glitter.

Intrigued by the looks, we thought of walking in. There are jetties on the banks of Mandovi. We saw the Big Daddy Casino jetty right in front of Miramar. This is a brand new one that started operating after this cruise was brought in from the Gulf, informed by our cab driver.

There were local Goan women sitting at the reception desk of an air-conditioned jetty. With a wide smile, they greeted us and informed about the packages. At Big Daddy, the packages are economical compared to others from Rs 2,500-7,000. So the basic package of Rs 2,500 includes unlimited snacks, unlimited house brand alcohols, live entertainment and Rs 1000 worth of chips to play. So in case, you win a game, you actually reimburse the whole. The VIP package worth Rs 7000 includes foreign brand alcohol and access to VIP zones where the game valuations are high. So when you pay Rs 2,500, the baits that you put are also low. Higher the package, one’s chance of getting more money increases.

We were guided to the jetty, where security screening is done. A speed boat is waiting for us to be carried to Big Daddy Casino, which stood anchored in the middle of the river.

Floating hotel

A 10-minute ferry ride brought us to the cruise. It now no longer looks like a ship, rather a hotel on water. The usher checked our passes and guided us to the casino area. Well, after crossing a few ATM machines and kids’ room, the game area is right in front.

Unlike the movies, this place is well lit with lots of people around. There are women who are the operators of each game station. There are inspectors right behind these women, who are keeping a close watch on the players, apart from multiple cameras above. On winning a game, one can encash the chips right there. The alcohol is free flowing and so are finger foods ~ kebabs, fish fries and paneer tikka. We reached the top floor of the ship, where live performance was happening. A full-fledged buffet is open from 8 p.m. to midnight. With multiple options of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, this is quite decent spread. The roof top is another amazing place here. It has an open restaurant that offers one of the best views on the river.

But what about the gaming? Yes, while most tourists eat, drink and make merry, there are people who come to win. Big Daddy has a specialised set of games ~ Baccarat, Roulette, Andar Bahar, Rashi Wheel, 3 Card Poker, Mini Flush, Mang Patta and Black Jack. Among these Mang Patta is the most popular game on board. We took the return ferry at 12.30 a.m. and there was still a snaking line of tourists waiting to board the Big Daddy.