Sri Lanka has blocked three major casino resort projects casino licenses. Sri Lanka’s new president, President Maithripala Sirisena has canceled the three separate casino licenses distributed by the previous administration. The casinos faced opposition from Buddhist leaders and some of outgoing President Rajapaksa’s own partners. The opposition is mainly in part to a fear among religious leaders who worry about an increase in prostitution and crime that go against their Buddhist values. The canceled casinos were:
- 1. Crown Resort‘s casino project, which was to cost USD $350 million dollars
- 2. Queensbury’s planned resort, a resort estimated to cost USD $300 million dollars
- 3. Water Front Properties of John Keells Holdings – estimated to cost USD $850 million
Many smaller Sri Lanka casinos have been operating for decades using loopholes in the law. For these operations, finance minister Ravi Karunanayake has stated they will be given only until mid-April to pay USD $7.6 million to stay in operation.
None of this is much of a surprise as newly elected President Maithripala was expected to block the Crown Casino and had promised to do so if elected. President Maithripala was elected January 8th 2015, effectively ending a ten year long rule by Rajapaksa.
The projects will be allowed to continue in regards to creating the resorts – but with no casino floor. “We have decided to ban such approval for casinos,” he reportedly told parliament. “But they can conduct all other activities.”
In addition to taking back the casino licenses, the new government had sharp words for some of the companies behind the planned resorts. After James Packer said Crown will not be building without the ability to have a gaming floor in the facility, Prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe shot back, “Packer says he will not come. Who asked you to come? Please don’t come – not in this lifetime. We need only good investors … we don’t want an economy relying on casinos.” As for the Queensbury resort planned by local businessman Dhammika Perera, Wickremesinghe said that Mr Perera was a businessman with special favors from the previous government and promised to take back anything he has received illegitimately.
Only the Water Front Properties of John Keells Holding company is confirming they will continue building without a casino floor.
Outgoing President Rajapaksa had said any approved casinos will be located in D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha in the capital, which is where the Crown Resort was to be built. According to Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne, the new leadership now says all casino licenses will be reviewed and any casinos will be restricted to a specific area which he did not name.