By Ranga Sirilal
COLOMBO/SYDNEY Dec 4 A $400 million Sri Lankan
resort and casino complex planned by Australia's Crown Resorts
Ltd faces additional delays and is unlikely to be
approved before the end of the year, a top government official
The new delay comes after opposition politicians alleged
Crown's chief, gambling tycoon James Packer, was getting
concessions not given to local entrepreneurs.
Buddhist leaders also said the casino could be detrimental
to the culture of Sri Lanka, a predominantly Buddhist country
where gambling is not accepted morally, despite the on-again,
off-again presence of casinos dating back to the 1990s.
"The delay is not unexpected given the Sri Lankan parliament
has been dealing with its recent budget and subsequent debate,"
a Crown spokesman said on Wednesday in an emailed response.
"Discussions between Crown and the Sri Lankan government
The government said in October that Packer's plans would be
resubmitted to parliament by Nov. 21 with altered terms to
address the various objections, but the country's investment and
promotion minister, Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, said on Tuesday
the deal "might not" be approved by the end of the year.
"I haven't prepared the cabinet paper yet," Abeywardena told
reporters in Colombo. "These days you can't do it because we are
busy with the budget. There is no hurry. These are long-term
projects and we are aiming to start by 2015-2016. You have
Crown has confirmed that it was in detailed discussions with
the Sri Lankan government and potential joint venture partners
regarding the development of a 5-star integrated resort.
The resort-casino complex is planned for a two-acre plot in
the heart of the Colombo commercial hub. It has already been
delayed once after the government asked Lake Leisure Holdings,
the joint venture between Crown Ltd and its local partner, Rank
Entertainment Holdings Pvt Ltd, to change its construction
Officials with the local partner also downplayed the latest
"Possibly it will go through once the parliament starts in
the first week of January, so one month does not make any
difference," Ravi Wijeratne, the owner of Rank Holdings, told
Packer's earlier deal had already been approved by the
government's cabinet, but Abeywardena said the deal must be
approved again by the cabinet after certain tax changes were
made before being approved by parliament.
Packer, one of Australia's richest men, has been in talks
since February with the government about the integrated resort
and investment options as he expands his global gambling
business that includes casinos in Australia, Macau, Britain and
the United States.