Everything you needed to know about the upcoming casino in Colombo

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Forty-six year old Australian national James Packer is the country’s third richest man, according to Forbes. Packer runs Crown Ltd., which has gaming interests in Australia, United Kingdom, Macau, the United States, and now Sri Lanka.

The planned resort will be at the edge of Beira Lake in Colombo, and will be part of the World Bank supported Metro Urban Colombo Development Project. The land currently allocated to the complex was obtained by a local company, Rank Holdings, in 2007 to be developed into a multi-storey car park. In September this year, Cabinet granted approval for a “mixed development project” on the land, with a ten-year tax holiday for the project, prompting the share price of Crown Ltd to shoot up following the deal.  The government initially denied it would be a casino.

The complex will feature approximately 450 5-star hotel rooms and VIP suites, five restaurants (including a hawker style food court), three bars, gaming facilities (of the gambling kind), a night life venue, luxury retail outlets, a spa and salon complex, a fitness centre, approximately 3,500 sqm of meeting and ballroom space and a water feature intergrated into the Beira Lake. The complex is designed by YWS Architects, a US-based firm specialising in gambling venues, and the water feature is designed by US-based WET Designs.

The entire project is estimated to cost $400m, and expected to employ 2,500 locals. Australian Cricket Captain Micheal Clarke and Vivian Greig, wife of legendary Cricket commentator Tony Grieg will act as ambassadors in promoting the project. The complex is expected to open its doors in 2016.

The project is being done in partnership with Sri Lanka’s Rank Entertainment Holdings, owners of Star Dust Casino in Colombo. Rank Entertainment is owned by Rank Holdings, whose chairman Ravi Wijeratne – a close associate of the President – is also a board member of SMB Leasing. Rank Holdings will reportedly hold 45% of the entire project.

The plan has faced massive opposition.

The leftist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna opposed the plan even before it was formally announced, and later called on the government to kill the plan altogether. The Opposition United National Party called for a secret ballot, saying that the bill to grant a tax holiday would be defeated if done so.

Madhuluwawe Sobhitha thera, a vocal opponenent of the casino project, was however seen last week with the local partner of the project Wijeratne entering one of his restaurants.

The Chief Prelate of the Asgiri Chapter, one Sri Lanka’s most powerful Buddhist leaders, reportedly threatened to take to the streets in protest, and the government’s coalition partner Jathika Hela Urumaya, with its base strongly within the Sinhala Buddhist community, also expressed its strong objections. Other religious groups have also voiced opposition. The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, another coalition partner, stated that they will not vote for the tax holiday nor support the setting up of a new casino.

UNP’s Dr. Harsha de Silva, an economist, says that the revenue for the state through taxes will not be reaped if a tax concession is granted.

Micheal Clarke has too come under pressure from lobby groups in Australia to step down as an ambassador the the deal.

The latest of the protests resulted in the government planning on temporarily shelving a tax-concession for the group. The government says that the bills will be introduced before the budget presentation, scheduled for November 22. There would be no new casino licenses that would be issued, but existing licenses, possibly from Rank Entertainment, would be transferred to the new project.