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Move redeems an election pledge by President Maithripala Sirisena to cancel the Crown Resorts licence

Sri Lanka blocks Australian magnate Packer's USD 400 M casino project

Sri Lanka blocks Australian magnate Packer's USD 400 M casino project
(Sri Lanka).- Sri Lanka's new government has blocked three casinos approved by the previous administration, among them a USD 400-million project by Australian gaming mogul James Packer's Crown Resorts Ltd.
Sri Lanka | 01/30/2015

(Sri Lanka).- Sri Lanka's new government has blocked three casinos approved by the previous administration, among them a USD 400-million project by Australian gaming mogul James Packer's Crown Resorts Ltd.

T

he casinos faced opposition from Buddhist leaders and some of Rajapaksa's own coalition partners, who feared that gaming could lead to a boom in prostitution and damage values and culture in the mainly Buddhist island nation.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said gazette notices that gave tax concessions to the projects, including Packer's integrated mixed-development project, had been amended.

"We have decided to ban such approval for casinos," Wickremesinghe told parliament. "But they can conduct all other activities," he added, referring to hotel and residential apartments included in the projects.

Besides Lake Leisure, Packer's Sri Lankan joint venture, the blocked projects are the $300-million Queensbury resort planned by Sri Lanka's Vallibel One Plc, and the $850-million Water Front Properties of John Keells Holdings Plc, the country's biggest conglomerate.

Packer, one of Australia's richest men, got Sri Lankan cabinet approval for the project in 2013, but its terms were altered in the face of opposition from some Buddhist leaders and political parties, and construction has yet to start.

All casino licences will be reviewed and gaming will be restricted to a specific area of Sri Lanka in future, cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said.

"But we have not decided an area yet and the current location is just temporary," he told reporters in Colombo.

Rajapaksa's government had said casinos would be restricted to D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha, an area in the commercial heart of the capital where Crown has planned its hotel. 

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