The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Texan cruise casino beckons Gujarat

Ahmedabad, Nov. 2: If NaMo permits, a taste of Texan nightlife full with a cruise casino could soon be had on the seas off Gujarat.

Industrialist Sameer Bhayani has bought from recession-haunted US a ship that was used as a cruise casino and plans to use it here to boost off-shore tourism.

Bhayani purchased the 5,500-tonne Texas Treasure — synonymous with Texan nightlife until a few months ago — for $4 million (about Rs 16 crore) in September.

But the hitch is that Indian laws do not permit gambling on its shores.

Citing marine laws, Bhayani claimed permission could be given to run a casino five nautical miles away from land as in the case of Goa, which has a “casino on the sea” eight nautical miles away.

Bhayani will have to approach the ministry of tourism, the Gujarat maritime board and the customs department for permission to run the casino. He will also have to apply to the state government and the Indian Marine Organisation to register the ship.

Bhayani, 37, a professional ship breaker, is looking for buyers or partners to run the casino. He said he was in talks with liquor and airline baron Vijay Mallya and Tarun Khattar, who owns the Goa casino.

“I want some professional people to run the casinos and restaurant. Both these people have shown interest,” said the entrepreneur who might either sell the vessel or enter into a joint venture.

The seven-storeyed ship, about 80ft high, has three restaurants and is equipped with over 500 slot machines, 200 blackjack tables, 36 poker tables and eight roulettes.

Hollywood star Tom Cruise and US President George W. Bush are said to have enjoyed the nightlife on board the vessel that was docked at Port Arenas in Texas.

What happens if permission is denied? “The ship will have to be dismantled,” said Bhayani.

The ship, built in 1970 and revamped in 2004, is now docked at yard no. 11 at Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat. “The vessel is in amazingly good condition. It can sail for another 10 years,” he said.

The ship has the capacity to host 2,300 people, of whom 860 can be accommodated in the gambling corners at any given time.

If he gets the nod, Bhayani plans to station the ship six nautical miles between Bhoga (Bhavnagar) and Dahej (Bharuch).

“The vessel is suited for places like Daman and Diu, tourist destinations similar to Goa where Gujarat’s dry law does not apply,” he said.

The ship was sent to Alang to be broken and sold as scrap after a tiff between partners who ran the casino and the ship-owners.

Bhayani, however, had the brainwave of reviving the “cruise casino”, as it would be something new.

He is hoping that chief minister Narendra Modi would consider the proposal. Modi is known for his bold initiatives: he relaxed prohibition norms for proposed special economic zones last year, despite protests from the Congress and Gandhians.

Gujarat tourism minister Jaynarayan Vyas said the government would take a decision after it got to know the views of other departments.

“The idea might be very attractive but at this moment I cannot say whether permission will be granted,” he said.

“We need to consider many things like whether it complies with the law of the land. But if other departments clear it, the tourism ministry will also take a view.”

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