Rakesh Wadhwa ‚Ä" casino king, stalwart defender of the free market, and journalist-turned-novelist ‚Ä" surprised his invitees when he failed to show up at the launch of his own book, The Dealmaker, at an upmarket eatery in the capital last week. Kathmandu elites collectively sniggered when the police suggested that he might have done a runner before the event because they were cracking down on casinos, issuing arrest warrants for managers for letting Nepali nationals gamble. The casino tycoon was apparently being investigated by the authorities for tax evasion.
It was a perfect mix of glitz, money and crime and the media had a field day. News of men who had lost all their assets in the casinos covered the pages. Then came the stories of those who had resorted to kidnapping and murder to procure money they owed to loan sharks. Meanwhile, greedy capitalists were breaking a 42-year-old law by letting Nepalis willingly gamble their money away, not paying taxes on the money they were making illegally, and, according to some, feeding deadly crimes in the country.
But if you follow the money, it isn't just going to the Goldfinger Casino in Goa that Wadhwa is said to be starting soon. Ex-home minister Bamdev Gautam, who tried unsuccessfully to keep the locals out of the casinos, has claimed that members of the police force routinely took bribes to turn a blind eye to casinos. When asked to conduct routine checks, police would alert the managers of their impending arrival.
Gautam's attempt to crack down might have been motivated by his claim that the Maoists had a stronghold in the casinos. About 1,600 people, most of them Maoist-affiliated union members, are employed in various casinos in Kathmandu and Pokhara. He has accused then tourism minister Hisila Yami of complicity, for protecting the union that resisted enforcement of the no-Nepali rule, which took to the streets to make sure they continued to gamble.
So the fingers are pointing in all directions. The question that seems to have fallen between the cracks is why not just legalise gambling altogether? After all, it is a voluntary tax on idiots. Reports state that 80 per cent of the casinos' income comes from their Nepali patrons. Like drugs, porn and alcohol, there are choices people are going to make with or without the government's help. If they are determined to squander their money why not tax it, and use it for something better?
"Did you hear about the man addicted to gambling, who kidnapped and killed a girl?" asked the reporter who wrote a news story titled 'Casino breeds crimes' (Himal Khabarpatrika, 17 November). Yes, and did you hear about the man who hacked his two daughters to death with an axe last week because his new wife didn't want to look after them? It is not the wife's fault the crime occurred; it is the murderer's lack of a moral compass that is to blame.
Locking down the casinos does not solve crime, nor does it prevent people from gambling. May I remind you of the online gambling sites that will be happy to take your money, minus the free drinks? In fact, the more we allow the government to intervene in our lives, the more opportunities there are for corruption. Only individuals can be their own moral agents. The government should not be in the business of wiping everyone's asses because people are too lazy to do it themselves.
Princely returns?, ASHUTOSH TIWARI