Nepal’s Tourism Ministry, which had backed allowing Nepalese citizens to enter local casinos sometime back, has taken a summersault and back tracked completely. So much so that the ministry now seeks to put a ban on the entry of Nepalis into casinos, as stated in a draft released by the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA).
Why the complete U turn? It was only a few months back when the ministry prepared a draft stating that the Nepalis should be allowed to enter into casinos and play and try their luck. Of course, the draft did suggest the levying of a mandatory entrance fee of Nepalese Rupees 1,000 for the locals to enjoy the casinos in their own country. In fact, Nepali citizens would have separate entrance gates at the casinos. This proposal was heavily criticized by the Ministry of Finance. Even the other ministries were not in favor of the suggestion as they felt that the move could create incongruities in the market.
The new proposal comes after the ministry had already set up a separate committee, led by Joint Secretary Mohan Krishna Sapkota, in June to draft a bylaw that would be sent to the cabinet for endorsement and approval. The committee comprised of renowned representatives from the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Law.
Is the Law in Favor of Nepal’s Citizens?
The existing law isn’t very encouraging and limits access to Nepal’s casinos by Nepali citizens. It permits only those with foreign passports to enter the casinos.
To add to the misery, the new proposal suggests the formation of an exclusive monitoring committee that would ensure that no Nepali citizen is allowed to enter the casinos. This committee, if formed, is likely to be headed by the person in command of the tourism industry.
If you thought the discrimination and ordeal stopped here, think again! The latest draft wants casino operators to maintain tight security in their casino complex. The operators need to maintain detailed records of all visitors, besides installing CCTV cameras and preserving the footage for up to six months, which would enable the committee to get their hands on the records whenever necessary.
What About Online Casinos?
There has not been anything specific, however, on the status of electronic gaming, the use of which has gained momentum of late. The earlier draft had proposed that electronic gaming should be permitted in the country. However, the Ministry of Finance has stated otherwise, wanting all outlets catering to the electronic domain to be closed and not receive new licenses. But the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation officials have not been in support of closing all the outlets that already own a license to function and, as a result, this form of gaming has not found a place in the new draft. Officials at the MoCTCA had themselves issued the licenses to these operators and it would be iniquitous to cancel these licenses or asking them to close down their operations.
Over two hundred and fifty online gaming sites that are outside the Nepalese jurisdiction have opened their doors to the Nepali citizens. As most of these casinos are legal and of some repute, they have succeeded in attracting Nepal’s residents.
What’s in the Wake of the Current Proposal?
The current proposal by the MoCTCA throws light on conflicting interests. It seems that those at the helm of legal affairs in the nation are vehemently against allowing locals to access casinos on their own land. However, access to foreign tourists has been permitted in the light of the revenues that flow in. The government definitely does not wish to forego this.
It is disappointing to see countries like Nepal, and even India, shun casinos and gambling. Isn’t it about time they seek inspiration from Macau, Singapore and Japan? Are we all willing to ignore the many benefits casinos can offer to an economy?
If properly regulated and taxed, just like any other industry, the gaming industry can foster favorable results for the tourism and hospitality industries and obviously the economy as a whole. Can we expect the attitude of those in power to change anytime soon? Can Nepal really afford this kind of uncertainty and instability? Read my next article on Nepal’s economy.