The Meghalaya assembly on September 12 rejected by voice vote a bill seeking repeal of the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021.
The Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming (Repealing) Bill, 2022 was introduced by the lone Khun Hynniewtrep National Awakening Movement (KHNAM) legislator Adelbert Nongrum.
Nongrum, who also supports the National People’s Party (NPP)-led government, said that he had brought the bill following the growing opposition to the operation of casinos and legalized forms of gaming in the state, which has been expressed by church bodies, traditional institutions, social organizations and individuals.
“I believe it is required for the house to carefully weigh whether the intentions of the government to raise revenue from gaming is more important than listening to the moral sensitivity of the people,” Nongrum maintained.
The legislator said that the bill was to “acknowledge and respect the moral sentiments” of the people of the state and to ensure that the Meghalaya Prevention of Gambling Act, 1970 is not diluted.
When assembly speaker Metbah Lyngdoh put the bill to voice-vote, the house rejected it.
Earlier, replying to a calling attention notice brought by opposition Trinamool Congress legislator George Lyngdoh, taxation minister James Sangma said that the state government would ensure that no locals are permitted in the proposed casinos that would be opened in Ri-Bhoi district bordering Assam’s Kamrup district.
He said rules have been framed in which the licensees would ensure that locals are not permitted into the casinos and would only encourage Indian and foreign tourists into such premises.
Maintaining that the state government was trying to attract niche tourists in the state, James Sangma said: “The locals would only benefit from the footfalls of such gaming premises in terms of employment opportunities, promotion of local art and culture, textiles, cuisine … through local dance, music, indigenous food products and handicrafts and silk items.”
He further informed that the Meghalaya Gaming Commission has been formed with a retired judge of a high court appointed to head it together with one member from the industry and one more member to assist the commission, who is yet to be appointed.
The taxation minister said the commission would oversee that gaming is conducted in a fair manner and any dispute arising out of the gaming industry would be addressed by the commission.
Reacting to the opposition to legalized gambling, Sangma pointed out that betting through ‘teer’ or archery counters had been legalized since 1992 and this form of gambling had been in the state for ages.
“Even presently it is a fact that betting on games like bull fights (though officially banned), cock fights, dice games is furtively played in remote areas of the villages,” the taxation minister said.