Sri Lanka bets on high-end casinos to boost economy

COLOMBO, July 17, 2013 (AFP) – Multi-million-dollar casinos planned for Colombo have boosted Sri Lanka’s ambitious hopes of becoming Asia’s new gambling hotspot, but the projects still face political and religious opposition.

“In the alcohol and tobacco industries, we have a good idea of how much is produced, what the sales are and more importantly what the profits are, but not in gaming,” Amaratunga said.

Sri Lanka legalised gambling in November 2010, with the aim of eventually luring cashed-up tourists to the island nation and boosting an economy battered by decades of ethnic war.

The government granted approval to Sri Lanka’s John Keells group last week, for a $850-million “mixed development”, a euphemism for an entertainment hub that includes gambling.

The green light was also given last month to the local partner of Australian billionaire and gaming tycoon James Packer, for a similar deal to build a $350 million lakeside resort in the heart of Colombo. Both investments have been given a generous 10-year tax holiday.

“Big names coming to Sri Lanka for mixed developments is a huge boost to the (tourism) industry,” said Chandra Mohotti, chairman of the state-run Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hote