COLOMBO: In his manifesto, Sirisena the opposition leader said that the special tax status granted to three planned casino resorts would be withdrawn — a promise that targets the Buddhist vote bank in an attempt to erode Rajapakse s rural support base.
He said in his manifesto which also vowed to launch a major offensive against narcotics.
President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government is facing an unexpectedly tough challenge in the national elections from Maithripala Sirisena, who has united opposition forces.
Sri Lanka’s influential Buddhist clergy had opposed allowing three casino resorts, including one with investments from Australia’s gambling mogul James Packer. But Colombo gave them tax holidays in December 2013.
Then in April, the government said they will not issue casino licences to the three mega resorts, yet made it clear that existing local gambling operations could move into them.
The palm-fringed island nation legalised casinos in December 2010, but the legislation has never been implemented.
Tourism suffered during the decades-long combat with separatist Tamil Tiger rebels. But with the end of fighting in 2009, the hospitality trade has grown steadily and the authorities had banked on casinos to lift the industry.
None of the proposed gambling resorts have opened in Colombo yet, but several local casinos have been in operation for decades, exploiting legal loopholes.
Packer s proposed 450-room Crown Sri Lanka resort — which once promised on its website to offer “world-class gaming facilities” — is yet to begin construction.
The other two resorts are a $650-million development from local conglomerate John Keells Holdings and a $300-million project by local businessman Dhammika Perera.
The country s main party of Buddhist monks is backing Sirisena who defected from the government last month to challenge Rajapakse at the January 8 presidential election.
Rajapakse was expected to glide easily to a third term. But Sirisena, who served as health minister in his cabinet, is proving to be a tough opponent.