James Packer eyes bet on Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka offers 'potential for an early mover', analysts say. Photo: Ross Duncan
Crown has confirmed that executive chairman James Packer was in Sri Lanka this week, reviewing the island nation’s potential to become another outpost of his global casino empire.
Mr Packer met with Sri Lankan ministers to discuss investment options, according to reports from Sri Lanka.
"They have not finalised the area and the amount they are going to invest. The government has asked them to come up with a proposal," Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, Sri Lanka's Minister of Investment Promotion, told Reuters. "The government proposed (for) them to invest in a large city hotel in Colombo and go to (the eastern city of) Trincomalee to look into possible investment opportunities."
Treasury Secretary P.B. Jayasundera said Mr Packer had expressed an interest in "integrated tourism", which typically includes hotels, casinos and other entertainment.
A Crown spokesman declined to comment about potential investments in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has a number of casinos in operation in its capital Colombo which are open to foreign passport holders.
Familiar names abound, like Bally’s Casino, MGM Casino, Bellagio Casino and Star Dust, but none are associated with their more famous Las Vegas counterparts.
If Mr Packer decides to invest in Sri Lanka, it is not clear at this stage whether it would be conducted through Crown directly or via its Asian joint venture Melco Crown which has operations in Macau and a casino resort developments under way in the Philippines.
Crown has operations in Australia the UK and US.
Sri Lanka is currently mired in a political storm over the impeachment of the nation's chief justice.
Prominent barrister Geoffrey Robertson wants Australia and other commonwealth countries to boycott a leaders' meeting in the Sri Lankan capital Colombo in November in protest.
Chief justice Shirani Bandaranayake was sacked by President Mahinda Rajapaksa two days after parliament voted to impeach her in January.
She had previously stalled a bill that sought to grant greater political and financial power to the president's youngest brother who is the economic development minister.
In his report, released in London on Wednesday, Mr Robertson argues the Sri Lankan government's treatment of the judge "undermines the rule of law to such an extent that the country which suffers it will suffer the loss of that independent power which is essential to make democracy work".
Mr Packer's Melco Crown Entertainment plans to build a $US1 billion casino in the Philippines in partnership with Philippines' wealthiest man, Henry Sy.
Sri Lanka expects its economy to grow at 7 per cent or more this year, fuelled by major infrastructure projects, and is targeting about $US1.5 billion in foreign direct investment after missing its $US2 billion target in 2012.
The country has allowed casino gambling off and on since at least the 1980s and currently has about nine properties including the Bellagio Colombo, operated by India's Delta Corp and unrelated to the Bellagio Las Vegas operated by MGM Resorts.