Sri Lanka’s new government has rescinded the previous administration’s approval of casinos for three resorts planned for the capital of Colombo.
The move was widely expected as fulfillment of a campaign promise given by new President Maithripala Sirisena to cancel the licenses, which had been granted by his predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Mr Rajapaksa, who governed the country virtually unopposed for 10 years, supported gaming expansion as a means of boosting the island nation’s economy through increased tourism and foreign investment. However, the plan was never popular with influential religious leaders of the country’s Buddhist-Sinhalese majority and was criticized heavily both by opposition parties and segments of Mr Rajapaksa’s own coalition partners, who feared the industry would undermine traditional values and lead to a variety of social ills.
Mr Sirisena defeated Mr Rajapaksa in an election held the 8th of January.
The casinos canceled include one slated for a US$400 million resort hotel planned by Australia’s Crown Resorts. Lake Leisure, as it’s called, was to be built in the capital’s popular tourist core. Casinos are also gone from a $300 million resort proposal called Queensbury, backed by local company Vallibel One, which owns two of Sri Lanka’s three existing casinos, and an $850 million resort called Water Front Properties proposed by hospitality giant John Keells Holdings, the country’s largest publicly traded company.
The new Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said gazette notices that gave tax concessions to the projects had been amended. “We have decided to ban such approval for casinos,” he told the parliament. “But they can conduct all other activities,” he said, referring to hotel and residential apartments included in the projects.
In the meantime, all existing casino licenses also will be reviewed and in future will be restricted to a specific area of the island, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.