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Sri Lanka – Colombo projects approved without casino element

By - 3 January 2014

The Sri Lankan government has now given its seal of approval to Crown Resorts’ $400m Colombo casino project as well two other similar developments put forward by John Keells Holdings and Sri Lankan businessman Dhammika Perera.

The casino element of the project has though been sidestepped with government highlighting two key points; no new casino licences have been issued and any new projects will have to be in partnership with local groups holding casino licences.

Faizer Mustapha, Deputy Investment Promotion Minister, said that a new gazette notification had been issued for the three projects adding that no explicit permission to operate casinos was mentioned in any them.

Mr. Mustapha said: “The applications are for mixed development projects, which include convention centres, shopping malls, and five-star hotels. This gazette notification has no mention about a casino anywhere. So it doesn’t deal with running a casino, operating a casino, or approving a casino.”

Opposition politicians had previously complained that Crown owner James Packer was being granted concessions not given to local entrepreneurs. Crown will now only be able to operate a casino in its mixed-development project through its local partner; Rank Entertainment Holdings.

Delays to the licence approval now seem to have been sidestepped with government saying it had not approved  a separate mechanism to operate new casinos in Sri Lanka, that it would not be issuing any new casino licences and that the casinos being finalised now were actually existing approvals, meaning a 2010 government ruling that no new casino licences would be issued remains in place.

Two Sri Lankan entrepreneurs have five casino approvals between them with Mr. Packer’s Sri Lankan partner Ravi Wijeratne owning two and local businessman Dhammika Perera owning three.

Mr. Perera’s licences have been in operation since 1993, operating as small scale casinos. These developments will be phased out and will give way to three much larger casino properties. He will use one of his approvals for his own Queensbury venture, a $350m resort near Crown’s planned complex. Located on a two-and-a-half acre property in Wijewardena Mawatha, the 40 storey property will boast 500 room hotel, shopping mall, a convention centre and multiple ballrooms. He has also committed to giving one to Keell’s $850m Water Front mixed-development project. Mr. Perera is also hoping to secure another operator either from the US or Asia to take on board the third licence.

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