|Sri Lanka approves Packer casino in Colombo
Sri Lanka's government has approved three hotel projects worth US$1.3 billion, including Australian gambling mogul James Packer's controversial casino project, the latest gazette notification announced last night.
It is customary for in Sri Lanka for the governments to announce decisions through gazette documents usually issued at night, Xinhua reports.
The three projects that have been approved are a US$350 million casino project by Packer, a US$300 million gambling facility by local tycoon Dhammika Perera called Queensbury and the largest venture of US$650 million by local blue chip conglomerate John Keells Holdings that will also include a casino.
These three hotel projects were initially presented as “mixed development" projects that would include the operation of casinos within their premises. However, in an unexplained twist, the government gazette, while approving all three projects, do not mention gambling facilities.
The government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has run into severe criticism for allowing large scale casinos.
Last month protests headed by religious leaders and coalition parties of the government forced the postponement of a crucial bill that was to be presented to parliament to provide tax concessions to the new ventures.
Packer's casino in particular has been severely censured by the Opposition United National Party for being given sweeping tax concessions for 12 years. The Australian Financial Review has estimated that the tax holiday will add up to as much as US$1 billion.
The UNP has also slammed the government for not establishing a competent monitoring system for casinos and alleged that public concerns were being ignored.
Sri Lanka's powerful Cabinet Ministers also approved the projects on Monday, setting the stage for more standoffs.