It might seem as if casinos and Maoists don't mix, but the Valley's gaming houses now employ hundreds of party workers or their relatives.
Kathmandu's casinos get frequent 'requests' from Maoist union bosses to employ party workers, wives, relatives, and friends from the districts. These friends and family work as croupiers, cashiers, security personnel, and in the accounts section at the casinos in Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Annapurna, Yak&Yeti, Everest, the Hyatt Regency, Radisson, Shangri-La, and the Fulbari in Pokhara.
The Maoists are cashing in on the ongoing battle between casino partners RD Tuttle and Rakesh Wadhwa over majority ownership of the casinos at Shangri-La, Yak&Yeti, and Everest. Both sides have at different points sought Maoist help to resolve the issue.
Bishnu Lamsal, president of the Nepal Independent Hotel Workers' Union says the Maoists have sent 600 of their people to infiltrate these hotels. Ramesh Babu Panta, president of Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Hotel and Restaurant Workers' Organisation says these are just rumours being spread to discredit his organisation. "We only suggest that the casinos employ people from discriminated against and poor groups," says Panta.
Panta's wife Durga and Laxmi Shrestha, wife of Shalikram Jamarkattel, president of the All Nepal Trade Union Federation are both high-level employees at the Everest Casino.
According to our sources, the Maoists have 181 people at Casino Nepal, 78 at Anna, 88 at Royal, 65 at Everest, 40 at Casino Tara, 11 at Casino Rad, and 40 at Nepal Recreation Centre. Casino security is being provided by former Maoist fighters.
Casino Everest's general manager TR Bhatta was vague while explaining the connection between his casino and Maoists. "They requested us to give jobs to those who lost family members during the war and to the displaced, so we employed 30-35 people," says Bhatta. "People come and go, it is common for casinos to employ a bunch of new people every now and then."
Other casino employees tell us that most of the people who were given employment due to Maoist pressure have got, quite literally, nothing to do at work. There's no money either, so other employees haven't been paid for months.
Last month, under pressure from Maoists, Casino Royal sacked 14 employees from its NC- and UML-affiliated groups. Their unions agitated in turn, and the employees were reinstated. Rajesh Karki, central vice president of Nepal Tourism and Hotel Workers Association (NTHWA) tells us he has been threatened a number of times by union leaders. "If we do not support their union, they threaten and beat us, that's their specialty," says Netra Bikram Thapa, president of NTHWA.