Sri Lanka, on Thursday, approved the setting up of foreign-funded casinos that are expected to bring in one billion dollars in investments despite a threat of protests from influential Buddhist monks.
Information Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, who is also the government spokesman, said the federal cabinet had decided to grant a tax holiday for casino hotels.
The approval covers a controversial USD 350-million casino in Colombo to be co-owned by Australian James Packer's Crown group and Ravi Wijeratne's Rank Holdings.
The island nation's largest listed company by revenue, John Keells Holdings, is planning a USD 700-million casino hotel complex in one of the largest investments ever made by a Sri Lankan firm.
The approval came after government denials in July that no licence had been issued for Packer to operate a casino.
The denial was issued following a threat by powerful Buddhist monks, who vowed to take to the streets against Packer's casino project.
The mixed developments will benefit from a 10-year tax holiday for the hotel part of their operations, Rambukwella said. "The gaming part of the operation is not covered by the tax holiday," he said.
Despite opposition from religious groups to casino operations, the government attaches importance to them in order to achieve a tourism arrivals target of 2.5 million by 2016, up from the current figure of one million tourists a year.
Opposition groups, including the main opposition United National Party, have objected to the granting of tax holidays to Packer's Crown Group to operate casinos.