Australia’s Packer confirms Sri Lanka casino plans

Australia’s Packer confirms Sri Lanka casino plans

SYDNEY - Australian tycoon James Packer on Friday said he plans to pump Aus$400 million (S$480 million) into a five-star gambling resort in Sri Lanka, cashing in on the country's tourism potential.

The billionaire, who operates casinos in Melbourne, Perth and Macau and is planning a complex in Manila, said the project on the banks of Beira Lake in Colombo would create 2,500 jobs.

Sri Lanka is banking on high-end casinos to attract high-rollers and boost tourist arrivals to 2.5 million by 2016 from the current level of about a million tourists a year.

Packer said he was in detailed discussions with the Sri Lankan government and potential joint venture partners to develop the resort, which will have 450 rooms as well as restaurants, retail stores, conference facilities and gambling spaces.

"I have great confidence in the country's future and believe as a destination that it is Sri Lanka's time to shine in Asia," Packer said in a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange.

"A Crown integrated resort would help redefine luxury tourism in Sri Lanka and play a significant role in helping to drive increased international in-bound tourism especially from India and China."

The tourism industry on the Indian Ocean island, famed for its beaches and wildlife, has boomed in the past four years after the end of a decades-long civil war in which more than 100,000 people died.

Packer said the Sri Lankan parliament and the Board of Investment were in the process of considering whether to grant investment approvals. A Sri Lankan government spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, last month said the cabinet had granted the project a partial 10-year tax holiday while approving the "mixed developments", a euphemism for casino hotels.

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