By Uditha Jayasinghe - Daily FT
- Govt. backs down over Aussie casino investment under pressure but leaves open loophole with gaming license transfer
- Insists $2 b FDItarget will be met
- Says $640 m dealfor mega integrated project agreement to be inked next week
Gambling with fate, a top Minister on Wednesday rejected claims that the Government plans to open a casino in Colombo with Australian gaming mogul James Packer, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.
Investment Promotions Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardana insisted that the investment proposal under discussion from casino kingpin James Packer was only for a “mixed development” project of US$ 350 million that would include a five star hotel, restaurants and penthouses but not a casino.
However, he admitted that there was room for the investors to transfer an existing gaming license from another owner and operate a casino.
Abeywardana defended the loophole by vehemently pointing out that the Government would not issue new gaming licenses and that if Sri Lanka wished to reach the target of 2.5 million arrivals by 2016 it would need to open itself up to similar investment options.
“If you take countries like Thailand and the Maldives you find that they have been flexible in this regard. Thailand, which is a Buddhist country, allows casinos to attract tourists. Maldives, which is a Muslim state, nonetheless allows alcohol consumption on island resorts. If we want high end tourists to come to Sri Lanka we must understand that such investments are necessary,” he told media.
He also gave examples of Singapore style regulations to protect locals and having a “foreigners only” policy as is already existent in some casinos in Sri Lanka.
The Minister defended the 12-year tax holiday given to the Kerry Packer project, insisting it would give Sri Lanka a boost in attracting more foreign direct investment. Recalling the US$ 500 million Shangri-la deal Abeywardana went on to say that the Kerry Packer project was given far less concessions and argued that higher taxation was not possible because it was smaller in scale.
In 2012 the Government set a target of US$ 2 billion but only managed to attract US$ 1.2 billion. Nonetheless Abeywardana is upbeat of the island’s chances of meeting the mark in 2013.
He revealed that a US$ 640 million dollar investment would be inked as early as next week with a local company for a hotel in Colombo
while in the last three months the Government has approved US$ 280 million worth of projects.