Is it to generate employment, or is it another vice in store? Meghalaya is seen as divided over the gambling plan

SHILLONG: 12th May 2022 (PTI Source)

State CM Conrad Sangma assured the party leaders that should and when the legislation is passed, the state would consult with various stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

The first and most importantly to know is that Meghalaya has long had offline and, more recently, online gambling, which was mostly unregulated. We must also emphasize that the Meghalaya Gaming Act of 2021 was passed by the Cabinet in December 2021. Then why is gambling or the concept of it becoming news right now? Why are demonstrations erupting now?

The recent opposition to gambling dates back to April when the government announced its decision to legalize and allow casinos within a hundred kilometres of the Assam-Meghalaya border.

The State CM, on April 27, asserted that since no laws have been established to regulate gaming activities or parlours operating for many years, the system in question technically isn't a legalised one.

“The need of the hour is to regulate it because the state can benefit from certain sorts of taxes and revenue,” according to Sangma.

The CM stated that the government needed a source of income when it comes to casinos. “If there is any movement in the future, we are clear that it will not be restricted to the Byrnihat region. We are examining an area around Khanapara on the outskirts of Guwahati because the market is much larger there,” said Sangma.

‘Gambling will destroy morality and harm communities,' says one of the opponents.

This has not gone over well with many state residents, especially the clergy. The KJCLF opposed the decision of the state government and has urged a repeal of the Act. On May 6, 2021, the forum met with the chief minister to convey their concerns. Despite the assurance by the state CM that the legislation had not been implemented yet, members of KJCLF said they would not support the online gambling legalisation.

As it stands, the recommendations from these three bodies are in direct conflict with each other. According to a letter from the India-based GTI Gambling Consultants firm, which was leaked online recently, the government's prohibition on betting has failed to stem illegal activity and is having a detrimental impact on our nation's mass market for gaming. The leadership of both organizations have publicly expressed their displeasure at the contradiction between their suggestions. "We do not want gambling legalized," said Rev. EH Kharkongor, Secy, KJCLF. “It will do us great harm,” he continued.

Conrad Sangma said in one of his statements that “as soon as legalised gambling affects all realms of life: individuals, families, communities, the youth especially because we have seen from the various studies undertaken by universities by researchers that it has detrimental effects on mental health... it leads to sex tourism, crime and violence, flesh trade, and mental health problems, which are some of the criminal activities linked with legalised gambling," according to Rev. Kharkongor.

The forum's statement also expressed concern, since the general public views them as role models. Rev Kharkongor continued: "As a body of Christian leaders from various Christian churches and organizations, the forum was concerned because they are looked up to by the public."

“This is about society, where we live together as a nation. This is a major issue for all of us, therefore we have raised our voices against the Act,” stated Rev. Kharkongor.

Rev Kharkongor noted the government's claim that it is "mulling" over the Act, adding that this made little sense. If they were still considering, Rev Kharkongor stated that the bill should not have been sent to the Governor for approval in March 2021.

"We have read the Act meticulously, and its consequences are dangerous for society. If the government has not implemented the law, I believe now is an excellent opportunity for us to express our dissatisfaction," Rev. Kharkongor added.

The controversy over gambling also highlighted the Meghalaya Regulation of the Game of Arrow Shooting and Teer Ticket Sales Act, 2018. According to Bishop Purely Lyngdoh, 'Teer' discussions have not been held. “Archery is a traditional sport for the Khasi-Jaintias people, according to my understanding.

“We want to make it exciting for people that come from other states, and we’re inviting them to play in the tournaments. We hope they enjoy their stay even more with this unique meeting point. The locals treated it like a competition, but ‘teer' played in this generation is considered as gambling since it involves betting on the number,” Bishop P Lyngdoh added.

The forum's objective, according to Lyngdoh, is to educate members and children about the harmful consequences of gaming since gamblers are more prone to self-infliction and even suicide.

While the leaders of the forum have taken a clear position, the locals are far more divided. A Shillong resident who did not want to be named said he supports the government's decision since it will provide greater job prospects.

The Shillong resident added, “Church leaders should focus on the church's business rather than interfering with government affairs.”

Another resident, on the other hand, sided with the forum leaders. “It is true that online gambling was already legal in many countries, like the UK. The residents of this state believe that the Act's leaders are responsible for their actions, and they have every right to express their opinions. Residents who disagree with them can turn to other means such as internet forums or email lists so that they may voice their concerns. Many people are afraid of making a mistake because it might be difficult enough to decide whether or not to gamble but then have an additional layer of responsibility imposed on them if something goes wrong.

“Online gambling was already permitted in the United Kingdom, according to several users. It is only after one of their family members becomes hooked on gaming that supporters of the Act will understand how difficult life can be for a household. “The goal of the government in legalizing internet gambling is to attract visitors, create employment and increase state revenue. However, he felt that legalising gambling would put upon a ‘curse' on the state.”

"The government has no concern for the negative consequences of gambling on society. Gambling is a disaster not just to families, but also to individuals," he stated.

"Why are people fighting against gambling legislation when 'Teer' has already been legalized? in the state. Teer is a long-standing tradition of the state's indigenous peoples. There has been a profit in it, thus it remains there. Similarly, with tourism, since visitors keep their villages intact, tourism generates revenue.” He continued.

“Meghalaya should not become Las Vegas, and neither should Shillong become Thailand. Before bringing a curse to our state, I hope whoever is making the decision makes a well-informed one.” He added.

The HYC Gen. Secy., Roy Kupar Synrem, further added that rather than becoming a gambling state, the government should consider alternative revenue-generating methods. “We demand that the government reduce expenditure on various festivals and give no allowances to MLAs, MDCs, ex-MLA/ex-MDC/ex-MP appointed as cochairman, chairman, vice chairmanship or other positions on boards or corporations since they are already well-compensated by the government.