Tuesday, 13 May 2014 00:01
By Mineka P. Wickramasingha
Casinos are not the playgrounds for the rich and the dashing anymore. The era when it was gentlemen in black ties and ladies in glistening jewels and evening dresses is over. The attire is of little consequence but the greenbacks collectively are. It is neither super-sophistication nor is it westernisation. Great numbers from all walks of life play the wheel. Casinos have sprung up in Asia – Macau, Malaysia, Nepal and at one time in numbers in Sri Lanka. Today too casinos are in operation in Sri Lanka and enriching the owners.
The important question is whether casino operations are justifiable in Sri Lanka?
The moralist/religionist would say; it is evil, it leads to crime, gambling is as an avocation of the loafer, the idler, it is dysfunctional and undermines disciplined work habits and it is against our cultural, ethical and religious sentiments.
Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country in the world that permits casino operators opportunities to accrue huge profits due to the lack of revenue controls. At one time they were free of corporate tax, VAT and betting tax. It was announced that they pay revenue tax, hence what percentage of the takings would Packer pay?
In almost all countries the casinos are run by the private sector but the government rigidly controls the dollar intake by empowering recognised banks to monitor the encashments that are deposited in sealed boxes.
A very large percent of the takings are revenue to the Government. From the balance a small percentage is for the operators, but still, large enough for Donald Trump to build skyscrapers on Park Lane.
A smaller percentage goes back to the gamblers by way of prizes, and in the USA these amount to million dollar jackpot bonanzas. Casinos are cash cows that generate colossal revenue from which the State benefits most. Casinos have erupted on the native American reserves in America and Freeport in Australia to develop those less advanced states.
Then the important question: Is there substantial revenue collection to our Government?
No. However, it would be a source of considerable revenue for the Government that could defray budget deficits, and still more will be left for development of underdeveloped areas. Native American reserves, Atlantic City in the US and Freeport in Australia were less developed till the casinos were established specifically to develop those regions. Today these cities thrive.
In this permissive epoch when modern thought supports exposure in favour of curtailment for the developing mind a liberal view can be justified.
Nevertheless, can our society steeped in prayer and religious activities, participating in pinkamas, pujas, and Sunday worship, constantly invoking religious blessings even in mundane matters, advocating uprightness in living, vindicate moral turpitude of this nature? Certainly not, and importantly when there is no substantial income to the state coffers or economic upliftment to justify its operation?
The pluses are: It can considerably increase revenue to the government. It is good for tourism. It generates direct and indirect employment.
In Sri Lanka is there substantial revenue generation to the Government and is that revenue utilised specifically to develop the country? No. Casinos are not legalised and government revenue is only a microscopic licensing fee, which cannot justify its existence.
Then would the current operation be a stimulus to the tourist industry and justify foreign exchange earnings? Most unlikely.
In Asia, casinos operate in Nepal, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Macau, Philippines, Cambodia etc. These countries have other attractions that complement its operations but the scenic beauty of Sri Lanka is insufficient to divert that traffic. Packer’s magic wand may not hit the jackpot figures he has projected; besides his recent street brawl does not augur well. The cash cow would be his and not the Government’s.
Casinos as proposed by Packer are simply hardcore, unadulterated gambling in opulent and plush surroundings with little controls and restrictions, permitting colossal dollar earnings for Packer. Obviously this is not for the development of the country but for Packer.
If at all, casinos should be located in clusters in specially designated areas like an island on the Bolgoda Lake or maybe the island on the Beira.
Casinos could develop into fun carnivals with abundance of water sports, restaurants, plush hotels and other activities.
But importantly areas that need careful examination are the moral and religious sentiments.