IAG JANUARY 2015 - page 12

inside
asiangaming
January2015
12
US$1billion in resort casino
plansareunder fire inSri Lanka’s
presidential election
T
he leading challenger to Sri Lanka President Mahinda
Rajapaksa’s bid for a third term in office says he will
cancel the licenses issued to Crown Resorts and John
KeellsHoldings to develop resort casinos in the capital
of Colombo.
Mithripala Sirisena, who quit asMr Rajapaksa’s healthminister
to run forpresident in the8th Januaryelection, hascraftedaplatform
designed to appeal to the spiritual leaders of the island nations’s
Challenging
Manifesto
Buddhistmajority,whoarevery influentialpoliticallyandareskeptical
of the president’s vision of casinos as economic development tools
capableof boosting tourismandattracting foreign investment innew
hotel construction.
The platform is incorporated in a manifesto endorsed by the
UnitedNational Party, themain parliamentary opposition, and built
around a vow to weed out official corruption and advance populist
measures such as extended farm loanwaivers and lower fuel prices
aimed at weakeningMr Rajapaksa’s rural power base.
Dealing a further blow to Crown’s and John Keells’ prospects
was the subsequent defectionofMr Rajapaksa’s counsel anddeputy
minister of investment, Faizer Mustapha, just days ahead of the
election. Mr Mustapha had been until then the public face of the
president’s casinopolicy and itsmost vocal proponent.
Mr Rajapaksa and his family have held a lock on government
since succeeding at the end of the last decade inwinning a civil war
against amilitantHinduTamilminority that raged in thenorthof the
island for 25 years. The Rajapaksas’ resistance to Western calls for
investigations into alleged war crimes in suppressing the rebellion
scores highly with voters among Sri Lanka’s dominant ethnic
Sinhalese-Buddhist majority, and the regime has been successful
in countering Western sanctions with large-scale infrastructure
investment from China. China’s booming travel market is a prime
target of thepro-casinodevelopment strategy.
“I would achieve for the country 10 times the development that
actually occurred during the past six years,” Mr Sirisena said, and
althoughMr Rajapaksa is favored towin re-election, his challenger’s
message is reported to be gaining support in urban areas and from
Tamils and the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities with
promises to purge the foreign service and establish independent
commissions to deal with thewar crimes allegations and secure the
impartiality of the judiciary, police andother public services.
“The extent of corruption in Sri Lanka in the last few years is
unprecedented andunheardof,” hismanifesto states.
Sri Lanka is home to four officially sanctioned casinos, all
relatively small, foreigners-oriented venues comprisingamarket that
Melbourne-based Crown and resort conglomerate John Keells, Sri
Lanka’s largest listed company, want to revolutionize by investing
more than a combinedUS$1 billion in luxury casinos with hotels in
Colombo’s tourist core. The administration supports both projects,
but gaming approvals have been held up by political and religious
opposition.
Mr Sirisena’smanifesto does not mention the country’s largest
operator: the three-casino group owned by Sri Lanka’s richest man,
Dhammika Perera, which also is set to expandwith the additionof a
$350milliongaming resort inColombo.
MithripalaSirisena,whoquitasMrRajapaksa’s
healthminister torun forpresident in the
8thJanuaryelection, has craftedaplatform
designed toappeal to the islandnation’s
influentialBuddhist clergy,whoare skeptical
of thepresident’svisionof casinosaseconomic
development tools.
Renderingof
Crown
’s
plannedSri Lanka resort
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