James Packer’s $400 million Sri Lanka hotel and casino plan face a new round of delays over a handful of unspecified legal issues.
Investment Promotion Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena declined to tell Reuters the specifics of these issues, opting only to say that the government will have to sort them out before construction of the establishment begins. “There are some legal issues from our side once they paid the necessary fees for the land,” Yapa said.
Yapa estimated that this new delay will push back the timetable of construction by another two or three months, another headache for what has become an increasingly problematic project for the Australian gambling tycoon.
Packer obtained Sri Lanka’s cabinet approval to build a hotel and casino a year ago. But the terms of the deal were changed after Buddhist leaders and political parties voiced their opposition to the agreement. In the face of all that mounting pressure, the parliament announced earlier this year that the Crown development would not include a casino but added a caveat that it would not oppose a Crown casino if the operator used an existing license issued to a local Sri Lankan partner. Packer eventually found that partner in Ravi Wijeratne who owns two casino licenses in the country.
Reuters cited analysts who suspect that this delay could take more than the two to three months Yapa estimated and could actually last until the next presidential elections scheduled for January 2015.
Despite all these delays, the casino mogul has high hopes of turning Sri Lanka into South Asia’s version of Macau with India and its growing economy taking the role of China. Like China, gambling in India is largely illegal except for a few locations throughout the country, which is why Crown Resorts will see all these delays through just to have a casino in that burgeoning gambling market.