DEHRADUN: India-Nepal border tensions coupled with Covid 19 epidemic has taken a toll over casino business in border areas of Nepal.
Mahendra Nagar area of Bhimdatta municipality of Kanchanpur district is a 'Casino Hub' where Nepalese residents are now allowed entry into the casinos exclusively catering to foreigners only, especially Indians.
Parmanand Bhandari, a hotelier from Mahendra Nagar town said, "Hotels, casinos and everything else related to tourism is shut down due to Covid epidemic. Every season we have big groups coming from India, mostly Uttarakhand but this year has been proved a dud."
Mahendra Nagar along with Champawat, Nainital, Udham Singh Nagar, Bareilly, Moradabad and Rampur areas formed their own small universe of business and leisure activities.
Designed exclusively keeping in mind Indian customers, now many of these casinos are nearing permanent shut down amidst apprehensions of further souring of India-Nepal ties.
An owner of a casino, on the condition of anonymity, revealing the details said, "Our casinos thrived only because of Indian customers. We have procured license and cater exclusively to Indian customers. Now due to Covid and India-Nepal border tensions, we don't see revival of our business which ran well. It was down only in monsoon times due to rough terrain and floods when Indians did not travel much."
Those who involved in running the casino business said that in peak season of Diwali and New Year week, the business touched Rs 10 Crore a day which is a lot.
Vikas Kumar (name changed) a businessman from Haldwani who frequented the casinos said, "Kathmandu, Goa and Las Vegas will be too expensive so people from business community who like to play visit Mahendra Nagar. We have list and won sums as large as Rs 5-25 lakh in a day."
Indians often ventured to the region for experience in casino, dingy beer bars and safari in Shuklaphata National Park abundance with wildlife such as tiger, leopard and elephant.
Lakshman Tiwari, a local resident from Mahendra Nagar, the town which I named after late King Mahendra of Nepal said, "Indian people have been coming to our town since decades. Our people also venture to India for work and Indian also come here for work and leisure both."
Kamal Jagati, a resident of Nainital district who has been frequenting Mahendra Nagar for over two decades now said, "Before the era of e-commerce website, it was Mahendra Nahar, hardly 4-5 hours drive from Nainital which was hub for low price foreign products such as garments, shoes and other items. With advent of internet and e-commerce, the area lost it's importance as cheap market for foreign goods and adapted to casino business for Indians and tourism."
Intekhab Alam, another resident of Nainital who was a part of tourism delegation said, "Last year a delegation from Kanchanpur arrived in Nainital and on their invitation we went there. They focused a lot on tourism. They gave us a tour of Shuklaphata National Park, their casinos exclusively for Indians and beer bars. So, the focus has shifted from selling items to promoting the place for tourism."