James Packers Casino business in Sri Lanka illegal says Harsha

*Only a Casino Regulatory Agency can isssue licences
*Cabinet approval not sufficient
* Challenges Govt. for debate


by Zacki Jabbar

The Australian Casino King James Packer has no valid licence to operate his gaming business in Sri Lanka, an opposition legislator charged yesterday.

Harsha de Silva MP and economist, said that cabinet approval did not make Packer’s casino legal since he had to obtain approval from a Casino Regulatory Agency established through an Act of Parliament, which the government had failed to do.

Describing the regime’s contention that Packer had got a license transferred from casino owner Ravi Wijeratne as a fabrication, he challenged it to produce the said document.

All casinos that operated in Sri Lanka including the one that Packer was in the process of establishing were illegal, the MP said adding he was prepared to debate any member of the ruling UPFA on the issue.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa had assured the Mahanayakes and other religious leaders that no new casino permits would be issued, but how can one give or even transfer something that did not exist, he queried.

De Silva, said that according to the Casino Business Regulation Act of 2010, no casino from Jan. 1, 2913, can operate without a license; function outside an area demarcated for the purpose and doing business without a valid permit would result in a jail term upon conviction.Since no licences can be issued without first establishing a Casino Regulatory Agency, all gaming businesses operating in the country were illegitimate, he stressed.

A casino licence, the MP observed, went into around 100 pages in most countries including in Australia and not anyone could get it due to the very stringent criteria involved.

The government, had taken cover under the Betting and Gaming Levy Act of 1988, which applied an annual levy on casino operations. The levy was amended many times and finally in April this year it was fixed at Rs 100 million, he pointed out noting that "it is clear in the original legislation that whether the gaming centre is ‘legal’ OR ‘illegal’ the levy applied."

An amendment brought to the Act in April 2013 removed the 12 percent VAT and instead applied a 5 percent gaming tax on all casinos. None of these amendments in any way did away with the requirement that a valid licence from an appropriate legal body was required to operate a casino, de Silva said.

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