All bets are on as Parliament yesterday passed the Casino Regulatory Bill, which was earlier named as the Gaming Bill to make gambling a legal activity in Sri Lanka.
The votes tallied 114 in favour and 33 against following the second reading of the Bill.
Despite earlier protests from religious and opposition leaders, the Government went ahead with the Bill, in what many experts point to being a move to increase revenue from tourism.
One of the more ambitious goals is a targeted $ 2 billion in tourism revenue a year by 2016. Sri Lanka earned $ 350 million in 2009 and $391.8 million by October this year.
Reuters reported that gambling is not totally prohibited and there are small casinos and sports-betting parlours in Colombo, but they operate under a hazy regulatory framework that has not encouraged large-scale investment nor robust revenue collection.
“This will enable the Government to streamline all casinos, which are now being monitored under various State institutions,” Deputy Finance Minister Sarath Amunugama told Parliament before the bill was passed.
He added that the casino business would be put under the watchful eye of a central controlling system, under the Central Government.
“Earlier, casinos operated under licenses obtained from local government bodies. Now, we are going to regulate them by the Central Government.”
However, the Minister had been unable to respond to questions from the opposition about how many casinos would be established, remarking that he did not have such technical details.
He also insisted that complaints about casinos being operated near schools and religious institutions had prompted the Government to take this step and insisted that proper regulations would be implemented in the future.
Gaming industry investors are already jostling for position over a proposed $ 500-million tourism zone in Colombo’s Beira Lake area, to be anchored by a $ 100-million hotel-casino complex, Reuters report stated.