Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - Page 14 News List

Sri Lanka bets on high-end casinos to boost economy

From 1972 to 2009, war rendered the country’s tourism industry virtually nonexistent, but with visitor numbers soaring, Sri Lanka is hoping big-name casinos will make it the new Singapore

By Amal Jayasinghe  /  AFP, COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

The government is still thrashing out the details of a regulatory framework for casinos, three years after legalizing gambling. A senior minister told parliament at the time that Sri Lanka hoped to replicate Singapore’s success in attracting high rollers to a well-regulated industry.

Mohotti said that luring Crown and other brands was key to further developing tourism, which is enjoying steady growth after hitting rock bottom during the war between 1972 and 2009.

“Four top brands — Le Meridien, Marriott, InterContinental and Oberoi — left Sri Lanka during the war,” added Mohotti, who is also a senior vice president of Sri Lanka’s 149-year-old Galle Face Hotel.

Tourism income is set to rise from 1 percent of GDP to 5 percent in the next three years, according to government forecasts, on the back of a continuing hike in visitor numbers. The government has set a target of doubling annual visitor numbers to 2.5 million by 2016 by encouraging different forms of tourism.

Sri Lanka attracted a record 1 million visitors last year, with between 1.2 million and 1.3 million expected this year, the government said.

Big-name casinos in Sri Lanka could tap a huge pool of potential punters from India, where most forms of gambling are banned, according to a recent analysis from the Daily FT financial newspaper.

“Sri Lanka emerging as a gaming center could draw more tourists from India and the Middle East,” the report said.

However, independent economic analyst Channa Amaratunga said it was difficult to forecast the financial gains given the lack of transparency in the government’s gaming plans so far.

“In the alcohol and tobacco industries, we have a good idea of how much is produced, what the sales are and more importantly what the profits are, but not in gaming,” Amaratunga said.

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