A leading businessman, Chairman of the Ranks Holdings (Pvt) Limited Ravi Wijeratne, who claims to be the prime mover of introducing casino to Sri Lanka said that he was the person who selected Australia’s James Packer and not the government.
“The government is not responsible in any manner for James Packer’s involvement in the project. My Board of Directors discussed what international company should undertake the management of the hotel. I visited several countries and met the business community. I realized that there was no match for James Packer. It was I who selected him and not the government. The government was no way involved in it,” he said in an interview with the ‘Irida Lankadeepa’.
The full interview
Q: You are Ravi Wijeratne? And what is your profession?
Well, I am a businessman. I left Sri Lanka in 1977 and after completing my education in England I returned to the country in 1992. My family already owned a business called “Grey Line”. I started a business of my own. I was longing to be an investor.
Q: You are a pioneer in Casino business in Sri Lanka. How did you make headway in the business?
The former owner of the present property at Colpetty was one Yasaratne. When I returned to Sri Lanka I learnt that he was going to sell it. He had already been running a Casino club. He sold me the building with the Casino licence. So I decided to run the same business and it was the opening of the Casino business.
Q: In your opinion, is Casino a game or a type of gambling?
Well, I would call it a game. Playing dice and even the traditional game of throwing Panchi can be interpreted as gambling. Casino is a
game and a way of recreation.
Q: But we often hear about people who were reduced to beggary and never a Casino fan who met with success in life.
Any game can be abused as gambling. We hear about gambling even on cricket. Too much of anything is good for nothing. One will fall ill if one eats too much of even nutritious food. So is any game.
Q: Is James Packer known to you ?
I know him pretty well.
Q: You are the go between in bringing him to Sri Lanka to invest in the Casino business.
There is no between as such. Ever since I started this business in 1992, I had been planning to build a tourist hotel in Sri Lanka. But in view of the military conflicts I had lost confidence in the viability of such a project that required a massive investment in view of the military conflicts. However, I had already purchased the land at D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha where the proposed hotel was to be built. A terrible situation prevailed in the country at that time. This compelled me to use the land for a public car park, yet I had not given up my plan to build a hotel. After the military conflict ended I decided to launch the hotel project.
Q: My question is about James Packer.
Well I am going to tell you about him. I will need about US$ 425 million for the project. I am in a position to meet the expenditure, but I want to give it an international brand. I discussed it with several companies in the US and in India. Meanwhile, I learnt that a gaming industry was to be established in D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha. It had been proposed in 1990. I thought of having a management for my hotel that would serve those dual purposes. We have many foreign investors in the hotel industry; we have American, Singaporean, and Malaysian investors. More European investors in the field are coming. I wanted a change in the industry and with this in view I went to Australia and discussed my plan with the Crowns who are running both hotels and gaming clubs. I acquainted James Packer during my talks with the Crowns.
Q: Who is the real owner of the proposed Casino club, is it Ravi Wijeratne or James Packer?
To date, I have funded the project hundred per cent. However, it would expand as the group of companies with James Packer and several other investors will be as partners in the course of time. James Packer is just one of the investors, but what is significant of him is that, he is well experienced in hotel management and gaming management as well. But till now, I am the only investor.
Q: The Casino business has been met with a massive campaign against it, and how would you identify it.
Well, we can give different interpretations. It is a business that came in with the open economy introduced in 1977. I am only giving it a better outlook. After opening the hotel I would use one of my Casino licenses for it. It is not a new venture. The protests have different facets. Perhaps they may be politically motivated. I am surprised at the protests. I have been in this field for more that 20 years. I am an ardent Buddhist.
Q: Is it good to establish Casino zones endangering the country’s cultural heritage and the social values?
I heard about Casino zones from the media. As far as I know it is a misconception. There will be no such Casino zones. Only five Casino licenses have been issued. I have two and Dhammika Perera two. One of my licences will be used for a Casino club in my hotel. The propaganda given to the misconception of Casino clubs may have led others to make applications for licenses. The five Casino clubs will be in D. R. Wijewardene Mawatha and that is all.
Q: So you mean that the Casino club is just a one facility in your hotel?
My hotel with 450 rooms on a floor area of 1 million square feet will set apart only 60,000sq.ft, which is just six per cent of the floor area, for the proposed entertainment section. The hotel will have six restaurants, a conference hall, and 450 rooms.
Q: There is widespread opinion that Casino and prostitution would go-together as twin-sisters and is there any truth in it?
It is absolutely a misconception. I have more than 20 years experience in the field, but it does not encourage prostitution or any other illegal trade. Prostitution is in fact a rival trade. Casino and prostitution are far apart and have no relations whatsoever. I am going to run a hotel and a gaming club. I will not allow prostitution in my hotel under any circumstances. I am an ardent Buddhist and father of four children.
Anyone who knows me well will bear evidence that I am against prostitution, drugs or any other illegal trade. I swear that I will not allow any illegal activity under my roof.
Q: Is Casino an integral part of the tourist industry?
It is a very nice question. India is a large country with a lot of things to see. Two of its states have permitted Casinos. Maldives is a country that does not allow that business. Tourists who left for Maldives when the war broke out in 1983 returned to Sri Lanka. Thailand has the highest tourist arrivals. More than 30 million tourists visited Thailand this year. Singapore is a well developed country that has Casino clubs. They realised the need of the tourists. After Casino was introduced, tourist arrivals in Singapore increased by 30 per cent. We must fall in line with the developing world. At present most of the tourists visiting Sri Lanka are from medium and average income groups. We are planning to attract large scale businessmen through innovative measures. However, they will stay in my hotel for a couple of days and visit the South or the East. We must have that facility for the tourists who need it. It will give a new impetus to the industry.
Q: You offered alms to the Maha Sangha who held a press conference on that day, didn’t you?
In fact, I was waiting for that question. I have already told you that I am an ardent Buddhist and it was my mother who offered the golden entrance (Ran Doratuwa) to the Sri Dalada Maligawa in 1983. I have quite often offered alms to the Maha Sangha. When my Maharaja Restaurant was opened the staff proposed to hold an alms giving. It was about a month prior to the press conference that we had invited the Maha Sangha.
Q: Will James Packer come to Sri Lanka? What obstructions does he have?
I learnt from the media that several conditions had been laid down, but I do not know about them. However, I will build my hotel and get his assistance
Q: It is a clear indication that you are the individual who will bring James Packer to Sri Lanka and not the government?
The government is not responsible in any manner for James Packer’s involvement in the project. My Board of Directors discussed what international company should undertake the management of the hotel. I visited several countries and met the business community. I realized that there was no match for James Packer. It was I who selected him and not the government. The government was no way involved in it.
Q: The tax holidays for your project have been called in question?
It is another nice question. The hotel will cost me US$ 425 million. We pay US$100 million for the gaming licence in addition to various other taxes. When the business prospers we will be able to pay higher taxes to the government.
Q: You are determined to construct the hotel regardless of any obstacles?
I am constructing a hotel. The hotel industry is not prohibited in any part of the country. I find there is no restriction to use my present licence to run a Casino in my hotel.
James Packer is too good for Sri Lanka and that's what it seems like by seeing all happenings around.
Clueless Monday, 16 December 2013 10:39 AM
selected or introduced?
Crazy Coot Tuesday, 17 December 2013 03:27 AM
Whay does he not start a PANCHI & PENCHI CASANO?
ganesh Tuesday, 17 December 2013 07:34 AM
Crazy Coot is really crazy. Have you ever seen a Panchi in a casino? There is nothing to worry about casinos in Sri Lanka. No poor person goes in their. If they loose money is not your or my problem. If you take the majority who plays are foreigners. If locals are visiting the Casinos, CID must immediately start monitoring on them. That is how the other countries maintain. We need more and more people like Ravi Wijeratne to bring this to a developed tourist destination. All what you have to decide is be a beggar by supporting the sobhitha & JVP in life or develop your present living standards of the country..
RohanR Tuesday, 17 December 2013 10:58 AM
"Will James Packer come to Sri Lanka? What obstructions does he have?"
But, did he visit Sri Lanka on a visitor visa? Is he allowed to participate in business activities and make prsentation in business fora with a visitor visa?
But, did he visit Sri Lanka on a visitor visa? Is he allowed to participate in business activities and make prsentation in business fora with a visitor visa?...')" type="button" class="btn btn-outline-secondary btn-sm" style="padding-top: 0px; padding-bottom: 2px">Reply
Ceylonese Tuesday, 17 December 2013 12:47 PM
According to James Packer it was former cricket commentator Tony Greig and Shane Warne who had proposed the idea of opening a casino in Sri Lanka.
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