Packer ponders bet on move into Sri Lanka
Sydney Harbour development Barangaroo is not the only casino project on James Packer's radar. The billionaire has notched up three trips to Sri Lanka in the space of six weeks signalling his interest in the island nation, which is positioning itself as a gambling hub for its larger neighbour, India.
A Crown spokesman declined to comment about potential investments in Sri Lanka but there is no denying Mr Packer's growing interest in the country. He has visited Sri Lanka three times since late February, discussing investment options with ministers.
"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 Abeywardena, Sri Lanka's Minister of Investment Promotion, said after Mr Packer's latest visit this month. "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.
Crown sources have denied reports from Sri Lanka that the Packer-controlled casino group has already acquired land in Colombo to build a casino resort.
According to local reports, Crown agreed to spend $US350 million to build Crown Colombo, which will be open for business in 2016.
The country, which is still recovering from a devastating civil war, has set up legalised gambling zones and introduced tax concessions to attract foreign investors.
Crown is not the only casino group showing interest. Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands is reportedly exploring investment options in Sri Lanka after being rebuffed by India.
And MGM Resorts and Caesars Entertainment have also been in talks with Indian group Delta Corp, which owns a casino in Colombo and several more in India.
India's gambling market is limited to two states, Goa and Sikkim, and laws prevent direct foreign investment. As with China's gambling enclave, Macau, it is India's resistance to gambling on the subcontinent that is expected to allow Sri Lanka - just a four-hour flight from India's major cities - to thrive as a gambling hub.
If Mr Packer decides to invest in Sri Lanka, it is not clear whether this would be conducted through Crown directly or via its Asian joint venture, Melco Crown Entertainment, which operates in Macau and the Philippines.