Shillong: First and foremost, the facts: Meghalaya has witnessed offline, and later, online gambling, for the past few decades and most of it has been unregulated. We must also note that the Meghalaya Regulation of Gaming Act, 2021 was passed by the Cabinet in December 2021. Then why is gambling, or the idea of gambling, making news now? Why are protests happening now?

The current opposition to gambling goes back to the end of April, when the government announced its decision to legalise gambling but, more importantly, to allow casinos near the Assam-Meghalaya border. 

On April 27, Chief Minister Conrad K Sangma, during a press conference said since there are no rules to regulate gaming parlours or activities functioning for several years, technically, one could say it was not a legalised system of functioning.  

“There is a need to regulate because there are certain forms of taxes and revenue that the state can earn,” said Sangma.

Talking about casinos, the CM made it clear that the government needs a revenue source. “To minimise these aspects in the future, if there is any move, we are clear that it will not be beyond the Byrnihat area. We are looking at an area beyond Byrnihat in Khanapara, bordering Guwahati, because the market is much bigger there,” said Sangma.

‘Gambling will ruin morality, hurt communities’

This has not gone down well with several state residents, especially the clergy. The Khasi Jaintia Christian Leaders Forum (KJCLF) has opposed the government’s decision and even urged the government to repeal the Act. The forum also met with the chief minister on May 6, 2021, to apprise him of their concerns. Despite the chief minister’s assurance that the Act hasn’t been implemented yet, the KJCLF said the Christian leaders would not endorese gambling. 

Chief Minister Conrad Sangma assured the leaders that as and when, and if, the law is implemented, the state would consider the views of different stakeholders. However, this has failed to placate the forum. In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, KJCLF secretary Rev. EH Kharkongor said the forum opposed the decision fearing the detrimental aspects of legalised gambling. “It will affect all spheres of life: individuals, families, communities the youth especially, because we have seen from the different studies undertaken by universities by researchers, we have seen the detrimental aspects of legalised gambling…it leads to mental health issues, violence, crime, sex tourism, flesh trade all these kind of criminal activities related to legalised gambling,” Rev. Kharkongor told EastMojo.

As a body of Christian leaders from different Christian churches and organisations, the forum expressed concern because the general public looks up to them, Rev Kharkongor added. 

“This connects with the public, with morality, how we live together as a society. This is a big concern for all of us, and hence, we have raised our voice to oppose this Act,” mentioned Rev. Kharkongor.

Regarding the government’s stance that they are still “mulling” over the Act, Rev Kharkongor said this made little sense. If they were still deciding, Rev Kharkongor said, then it shouldn’t have been sent to the Governor for approval in March 2021. 

“We have gone through the Act thoroughly, and the implications are detrimental to society. If the government hasn’t implemented the Act, then I think this is the right time for us to voice our opposition,” explained Rev. Kharkongor.

The controversy around gambling also brought to light the Meghalaya Regulation of the Game of Arrow Shooting and the Sale of Teer Tickets Act, 2018. Speaking on the issue, Bishop Purely Lyngdoh said the forum has not discussed Teer/ archery. “My understanding is that archery is a traditional sport of the Khasi-Jaintias. The locals played archery like a competition, who will hit more arrows, etc. But the ‘teer’ played in this generation is gambling where you bet on the number…” said Bishop P Lyngdoh.

The forum, Lyngdoh said, aims to educate its members and youngsters on the ill effects caused by gambling because a gambler can have suicide and self-infliction tendencies.  

‘Good way to pay teachers, increase revenue’

While the forum leaders have expressed a clear stance, the locals are more divided. A resident of Shillong, who asked not to be named, said he welcomes the government’s decision because it will provide more job opportunities and also help to pay school teachers. 

When asked about the KJCLF opposing the decision, the Shillong resident said, “The church leaders should stick to the business of the church and let the government govern.”

However, another resident, B Marbaniang, sided with the forum leaders. It is only when one in their family is addicted to gambling that they (the supporters of the Act) will understand the hardships caused within a family. The government’s idea to legalise gambling is to boost revenue and attract more tourists. However, Marbaniang felt the idea of legalising gambling would ‘bring a curse’ to the state. 

“The government does not think about the ill effects of gambling on the citizens. Gambling is a curse to families, and I have seen it. I have worked at teer counters and have seen the dark and ugly side of people, they can do anything for money,” said Marbaniang.

But why are people opposing gambling legislation when Teer is already legalised? “Teer is a traditional practice of the state’s indigenous people. There has been a profit in this, hence it is there. Similarly, with tourism, where people maintain their villages, tourism brings income,” Marbaniang added. 

“I don’t want Meghalaya to be a sin city like Las Vegas and don’t want Shillong to be like Thailand, which is known as the sex capital of Asia. I hope whoever is making the decision takes a wise decision before bringing a curse to the state,” stated Marbaniang.

Apart from the church leaders opposing the idea, a pressure group called the Hynniewtrep Youth Council (HYC) also opposed the government’s decision. General Secretary of HYC, Roy Kupar Synrem, stated that the government should look at other ways of boosting the revenue and not by making it a gambling state. “We demand the govt to reduce the unnecessary spending on various festivals and not pay any kind of allowances to MLA/MDC, ex-MLA/ MDC/MP appointed as chairman, co-chairman, vice chairman etc in boards, corporations as they either draw salaries or pensions from the government,” HYC said. 

Also read: Buckwheat cultivation expected to generate big bucks for Meghalaya farmers

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