Kathmandu: The chips piled up against Nepal`s beleaguered casino industry, the oldest in South Asia, have mounted still more with lawmakers ordering it to quit the capital even as it faces an unequivocal closure this month.
The eight casinos in Kathmandu, which operate from the premises of the capital`s eight five-star hotels, will have to vacate and relocate outside the capital while four additional "mini casinos" that were allowed to operate from smaller hotels will have to close.
The marching order came even as the entire casino industry - with eight casinos in Kathmandu and two more in Pokhara city - faces the threat of having all the licences cancelled if it fails to pay the revenue it owes the state by February 11.
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament on Wednesday ordered the government to re-locate the capital`s casinos outside after growing reports of that illegal gambling was fuelling crime in Nepal.
Though Nepal`s laws forbid citizens from playing in the casinos, Nepalis form the bulk of gamblers after the flow of gaming tourists from India ebbed.
Several abductions, extortion cases and even murders were found to have been committed by losing gamblers seeking to pay off their dues.
Since late last year, police began carrying out regular raids on the casinos, arresting Nepali patrons.
The crisis worsened after Nepal`s ruling communist party and the opposition Maoists locked horns over consolidating their grip on the casino industry that employs over 7,000 people. The recent crackdown is said to have been ordered by the home and finance ministries, both headed by the communists.
The casinos owe the state nearly NRS 22 crore in revenue. They have also been behind in paying the rent owed to the hotels.
Once most of them were owned by an Indian, Rakesh Wadhwa. Now faced with an arrest warrant, Wadhwa has fled Nepal and two of the hotels slapped legal notices on his casinos, asking them to vacate the premises.
The plight of the casinos has also badly impacted four mini casinos which started operating since last year.
One of them was inaugurated by Tourism Minister Sharad Singh Bhandari in Nepalganj last year.
However, the parliamentary committee on Wednesday said all four mini casinos have to be closed. It has also asked the government to formulate regulations in tandem with the finance and tourism ministries within 15 days and enact a new gambling law at the earliest.
The eight casinos asked to quit the capital are: Casinos Venus (Hotel Malla), Rad (Hotel Radisson), Royale (Yak and Yeti), Anna (Hotel de l`Annapurna), Shangri-la (Hotel Shangri-la), Tara (Hotel Hyatt) and Everest (Casino Everest), Nepal (Hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza).
The marching order is tantamount to a death blow since the cash-strapped industry will have to come up with sizeable investment for new infrastructure. The number of visitors will also fall once the casinos relocate to outer districts where transport and other facilities are poor.