Games of chance

The clashes that took place between police and employees of the Anna casino at the Hotel de l’Annapurna last Friday (October 24) point to attempts to defend one’s turf. Both sides have given their versions of the incident. The incident has brought into prominence some questions. According to the police, some of them had gone to the casino to check whether Nepalis had been allowed to gamble but they were attacked by casino workers unprovoked, whereas the workers allege intoxication on the part of a sub-inspector and the policemen’s failure to produce their identity cards and legality papers for their action. Whatever the truth of this particular incident, several issues need to be set straight.

But the most important thing is what the law says and whether it is being followed or not. The law stipulates that Nepalis are prohibited from gambling in the casinos. For years there was only one casino, and several years ago, new casinos were permitted to open at other hotels. The casino was allowed presumably to boost the Nepali tourist industry and only foreigners have been legally permitted to gamble there. But when several casinos were opened, more or less the same market had to be divided up among the casinos, thus cutting their profit, perhaps increasing the risk of loss. New Nepali patrons were thus quietly encouraged. It is an open secret that no-Nepali rule has been routinely violated. Sometimes, the police conducted raids on the casinos in the name of checking the possible entry of Nepali gamblers, and on some of the occasions they got hold of the gamblers, not the operators. But there can be no excuse for getting round the law.

Whether to permit Nepalis to indulge in the games of chance in the casinos falls within government policy. If it is to be permitted, the law must be amended first. A question may also well arise also whether it is desirable at all to permit the casinos even for foreigners. Arguments in favour of the casinos are that it helps tourism, generates revenue, and provides jobs. But given that foreigner-only casinos are legal, the casino-operators should not face any harassment from the authorities, as long as they are on the right side of the law. Undoubtedly, the law-enforcement authorities have the right to conduct surprise checks or raids when they have reasonably reliable information that unlawful activities are going on. But it must also be borne in mind that unnecessary raids and harassment may adversely affect legal business, too. But even the police need to go by the rule. They cannot act arbitrarily or ignore legal procedure. If there has been something wrong in this respect, the government must correct it without any hesitation. If any officers have misused their authority in the process, they must face action too. This would raise the credibility of the government’s action and support for it. This approach also applies to the government’s handling of other nightlife businesses. What is permissible and what is not must be clear, and action should be guided by it, not by any ulterior motives.