Casino operators’ hopes for building large-scale integrated resorts in Sri Lanka bit the dust on Thursday as the country’s newly elected government officially put the kibosh on three pending projects. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told parliament that the new administration had “decided to ban such approval for casinos,” fulfilling a campaign promise by new president Maithripala Sirisena.
The previous government had offered operators like Crown Resorts significant tax concessions to help attract large-scale development but the plans were strongly opposed by other political parties and the nation’s influential Buddhist leaders. Sri Lanka has around five small casinos that operate in a legal grey area and the previous government had planned to dodge the issue of authorizing new casino licenses by allowing these operators to transfer their licenses via partnerships with large developers.
In addition to Crown’s $400m project in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, property developer John Keells Holdings and local politician/businessman Dhammika Perera had proposed similar projects, although none of these had yet to begin construction. The government insists all three operators can build resorts if they so choose, but casinos cannot be a part of the entertainment options.
Sri Lanka is also casting a fresh eye on its existing small-scale casinos. Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said all current casino licenses will be reviewed because government officials “want to see the legal basis of those operations.” A new one-time casino tax of Rs 1b (US $7.5m) will be demanded of all current license holders. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said the tax must be paid by April 15 or the whip would come down.
Senaratne also revealed that plans are underway to restrict casino gambling to a specific area of Sri Lanka. The previous government had designated its own gaming zone in the D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha area of Colombo but Senaratne said the exact location of this new gaming zone had yet to be determined.