The Times of India reports that hundreds of migrant casino workers in Goa have had their names added to an electoral roll, even though they are not eligible to vote.
India’s revenue minister, Rohan Khaunte, has filed an official complaint with the chief electoral officer demanding that the workers’ names be removed immediately. He also lodged a complaint with the police.
Voting in the general election in India begins on April 11 and ends on May 19, with the result due on May 23. Canvassing is well underway and the crucial votes affect the Lok Sabha, India’s lower house of its parliament.
Khaunte filed his complaint on March 28. He said the names of some 820 migrant staff working for the Casino Pride Group were added to the electoral roll for the constituency for Porvorim. The additions were made without the workers’ knowledge.
The migrant staff members all hail from outside Porvorim, which is the legislative capital of the state of Goa. Most come from other Indian states such as Manipur and Mizoram in the northeast, thousands of miles away. A few originate from Nepal.
Khaunte alleged that their names were all added online, all via the same IP address. He implicated the director of Casino Pride Group, Srinivas Nayak, in the scandal.
He said: “People hailing from Mizoram, Manipur and even from Nepal working on casinos, especially on Casino Pride, were trying to get a voter tag. Most of them reside in rented premises at Porvorim and Saligao.
“I really don’t know the rationale behind this massive exercise, probably at the behest of director of Casino Pride group, Srinivas Nayak. Either he must have taken the election process for granted or he is trying to form a vote bank so that he could try his luck in Goa’s electoral waters.”
The assistant chief electoral officer, Narayan Sawant, said they were taking Khaunte’s complaint seriously and he confirmed the 820 enrollments but said some had been rejected for various reasons.
He said: “We are examining the report. The action will be followed after going through the report. Those having valid documents, their applications were accepted. Some applicants even withdrew their applications.”
Following Khaunte’s statement to journalists, the migrant workers all contacted the electoral officer to have their names removed.
Casino workers in uniform turned up en masse at the government’s offices armed with affidavits and demanding their names being taken off the electoral roll.
A conspiracy? Or not?
Khaunte’s allegations pointed the finger clearly at Nayak by saying: “One can very well judge who is the person behind this exercise.”
He described the scandal as a “mass enrollment” and said the aim was clearly to influence elections, including to the Lok Sabha. The minister believes the votes in the name of the migrant workers would have been used to help elect politicians “who are favorable to the casino lobby.”
He said the chief electoral officer needed to launch an immediate investigation into the electoral rolls elsewhere in Goa state, where there are casinos.
But Nayak rebutted Khaunte’s claims, saying he was not a member of any political party in India and was not interested in running for political office.
He said: “We had run an awareness campaign launched by the election commission like other corporates encouraging young voters under the corporate social responsibility program.”
What is Casino Pride?
Porvorim is the home base for Casino Pride Group, which owns and runs a number of offshore casinos in Goa.
Its main casino is the floating Casino Pride, which is anchored in the Mandovi River near the Goan state capital Panaji. The ship is said to be worth 110m rupees ($1.6m). It offers a range of casino games including baccarat, roulette, and blackjack, plus slots. It also runs four Indian casino games.
The company owns five casinos – two in Panaji, one in Porvorim, one in Baga (Goa), and one in Kathmandu in Nepal. The Indian Travel Awards previously gave the group a best casino award. Casino Pride also has two five-star hotels.
Gambling is mostly illegal in India, but offshore casinos fall outside the law. Goa has licensed the offshore casinos to boost tourism, but they remain controversial. The state also permits e-casinos operated on-shore.
Government casino controversy
Khaunte recently supported a move in Goa to extend the licenses of the offshore casinos. The state cabinet voted on this move in early March.
However, just one week later, Khaunte attempted to backpedal on his role in approving the licenses. His reversal concerned the state government’s decision to relicense the Lucky 7, which is one of six floating casinos on the Mandovi River.
Lucky 7 ran aground in September 2017, suffering major damage to its hull and propellers. It is owned by Golden Globe Hotel Pvt. Ltd. It has since been extensively refurbished, but the high court said it had to undergo safety inspections before it could be refloated.
However, Lucky 7 was floated into the Mandovi without an inspection. Khaunte said he had been unaware when voting that this was the case. He claimed he had tried to take up the matter with the chief minister of Goa but had been unable to contact him.