Opposition protests casinos as controversial bill taken up in Parliament
The main Opposition yesterday staged a protest outside the proposed site for three casino investment valued at over $ 1 billion as Parliament prepared to pass controversial legislation legalising gambling.
The three projects are a $ 350 million casino project by Australian casino mogul James Packer, a $ 300 million gaming facility by local tycoon Dhammika Perera called Queensbury and the largest venture of $ 650 million by local conglomerate John Keells Holdings (JKH) that will also have a casino.
The Government has already twice attempted to push through legislation in Parliament that will make casinos legal.
However, strong protests from the Opposition United National Party (UNP) and Buddhist hardline group Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which is part of the ruling coalition, has stalled the attempts.
“The Government continues to fool the people by saying that the casino gazette includes no casinos. It’s a joke. The Government is trying to take people for a bunch of idiots but we cannot be fooled by the Government,” UNP MP and well-known economist Dr. Harsha De Silva told reporters during the protest.
The UNP members together with supporters and Buddhist monks marched along the Fort area of central Colombo. The protest also caused huge traffic jams as the area holds several large offices and five-star hotels.
The Government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa holds a two-thirds majority in Parliament and the latest presentation of the projects on Thursday and Friday is expected to have a high chance of success.
Last year following protests the Government removed the word “casino” from the draft bill and inserted the phrase “mixed development projects,” which the UNP claims is just a euphemism for casinos.
The Government had previously stated existing casino licenses could be transferred to the three projects and Opposition politicians have charged that loopholes exist in the regulations to establish casinos at a later date.
Packer’s casino in particular has been severely censured by the UNP for being given sweeping tax concessions for 12 years. The Australian Financial Review has estimated that the tax holiday will add up to as much as $ 1 billion.
The UNP has also slammed the Government for not establishing a competent monitoring system for casinos and alleged that public concerns were being ignored.
The UNP has also proposed three amendments to the Bills that are to be taken up in Parliament banning casinos or prostitution from ever being carried out at these three projects.
President refutes allegations casinos to be introduced
President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday categorically refuted allegations that the Government has issued casino licenses to the new hotel projects.
P’ment approves Gazette on Queensbury
First of the controversial Gazette notification, which sanctions the establishing and operating of an integrated super luxury tourist resort coming under The Queensbury Leisure Ltd. received the Parliament’s approval yesterday.