For those hailing from sheltered cul-de-sacs, an athletic pole dancer in spandex and five-inch heels may be too intense an initiation into the world of gambling. It’s not hard to understand why, but it is difficult to peel your eyes away from this immense display of core strength at Big Daddy. Launched at the start of 2019, the offshore casino aces the game of bombarding guests with one distractingly luxurious entertainment option after another. A wise man had once remarked that true luck in gambling is knowing when it’s time to rise and go home. Even as a teetotaler with zero knowledge of card games (Bluff, surely, doesn’t make the cut), I found it difficult to tear myself away from the spirit of merriment on board.
As you take the ferry from a jetty on the Mandovi River, the casino’s mascot—a winged panther, similar in appearance to the mythological griffin—glows fierce and golden from afar. The ride, depending on your social skills, ends up as one of two experiences—polite conversation with a stranger, who in all likelihood, hopes to be out of their senses by sunrise, or a medley of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as smartphones flip out to capture the neon ripples across the river.
Big Daddy operates out of a 24-year-old refurbished ship that’s split into five levels. On the ground floor is the largest gaming hall, stuffed with roulette tables, electronic stadiums and every gambling activity known to man. The layout is fluid, with more traditional stations prefacing modern variants, and young dealers are willing to teach you the ropes at select learning tables. As the excitement builds up, guests move to the second and third levels—the former for high-stakes gaming and standalone card rooms, the latter for VIP gaming at the cheekily christened ‘Daddy’s Club’. Depending on your package (or your Macau high roller dreams), private chefs rustle up an endless array of snacks and cocktails. If you’d rather pick from set menus, unwind with a smoke and nibbles at lounge Hazoor, or sample the dinner spread at buffet hall Aish- O-Rum. Live entertainment—vocalists, instrumentalists, charming belly dancers—emerge every few hours. The décor has a distinct 1970s vibe: blindingly luxe in some areas with kaleidoscopic carpets, art deco-style chandeliers, mirrored walls and even diamond-collared animal statues. But when guests come on board to play and splurge, who doesn’t want the whole shebang?
The highlight of the tour was a surprise history lesson from casino legend Narinder Punj. Ditching tired corporate spiel for insider anecdotes, Punj (arguably the real ‘big daddy’ of the Mandovi, having curated four of its offshore gaming hubs) breezily explained India’s current environment. I believe this manner of enriched hospitality extends all over the ship; we were treated to basics like the casino restriction to Goa and Sikkim; B2B-style information on footfall and target audiences (Big Daddy caters more to Indians); and the Mandovi’s casino evolution, from the Deltin Caravela’s first 12 gaming tables to the hundreds aboard this ship. The vessel, frankly, deserves a biography of its own, having beguilingly changed hands from the Austrian government, to a Jordanian prince, to being a party boat in Egypt.
I didn’t think I’d ever say this about a casino, but Big Daddy is knowingly family-friendly. Operations are slick and secure, and staff are willing to put in elbow grease to curate bespoke-yet-affordable experiences. Since the casino floor only allows those 21 and above, there’s a bright kids' entertainment hall stocked with books, toys and console games. I’d probably resonate more with this space than the anxiety that hovers around roulette tables. We noted several families entrusting their children to the gamekeepers before embarking on their respective gambling joyrides, those great levellers of the human ego.
At any casino, the odds are against you—the house, more often than not, will be the one raking in the dough. But from the moment you step off the ferry to the wistful ride back, Big Daddy excels at softening the blow.
To visit Big Daddy Casino, guests board a ferry from the Captain of Ports jetty in Panjim, Goa. For packages and pricing, see bigdaddy.in