Rolling the dice in Sri Lanka: Are casinos eroding our society?

Lakshman Indranath Keerthisinghe | Published on November 24, 2011 at 12:48 am

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days,

Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays

Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,

And one by one in the Closet lay”

-Omar Khayyam .The Rubaiyat

This column dedicated to the notion of making Sri Lanka the Wonder of Asia turns its spotlight today on the cancer of casinos and gambling which is invading Sri Lankan society which aspires to be free of such disastrous practices.

America’s house of ill-repute

David Detzer, an American journalist, after visiting Havana in the 1950s wrote thus: ‘Batista established lasting relationships with organized crime, notably with American mobsters Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano, and under his rule Havana became known as “the Latin Las Vegas.” Batista and Lansky formed a friendship and business relationship that flourished for a decade. During a stay at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York in the late 1940s, it was mutually agreed that, in return for kickbacks, Batista would give Lansky and the Mafia control of Havana’s racetracks and casinos.’ This is exactly what happened in Havana at that time before Castro’s revolution, under the dictator Batista, as Cuba was then known as “America’s house-of-ill-repute.’

Boost tourism

In 2010, Sri Lanka’s parliament passed a law that legalized gambling titled the Casino Business Regulation Act No.17 of 2010 which came into force on 7th December 2010 despite strong criticism from opposition lawmakers who charged it would increase prostitution in our nation, the passing of which law, some commentators have stated is an indication of the power of the interested legislators and the power of the Casino Barons in Sri Lanka. The Bill empowers the President, who also acts as the minister of finance, to grant licenses to set up betting establishments in specified areas. Casinos and horse-racing bookies have been operating in Sri Lanka for decades, exploiting loopholes in the law to evade an official ban on gambling. The Deputy finance minister at that time, Sarath Amunugama said the new law would regulate gambling and harness its potential to boost tourism, which has soared since May last year after the end to the island’s ethnic civil war. The Deputy Minister further said the government has identified Singaporean businesses to set up gambling operations in the island. He did not name the companies. With this legislation, the government states that gambling outlets are required to obtain licenses by 2012 or cease to operate. Violators will face a fine of $45,000 and a five-year jail term. The Act provides “for the designation of areas in which persons intending to start the business of gaming can set up their establishments”. The government is of the view that casinos will help increase economic prosperity by attracting high spending tourists to Sri Lanka.

Red light districts

However, opposition lawmaker Dayasiri Jayasekera said the gaming zones established by the legislation will effectively become red-light areas where prostitution will thrive. “What this law does is not only legalize gambling, but also legalizes prostitution,” Jayasekera said. Some casinos in the city are known as pick-up haunts for prostitutes. The Casino is not just the gateway to gambling addiction. It is the gateway to the ‘supermarket’ of alcohol addiction, drug addiction, prostitution, pedophilia and organized crime. After the heroic rescue of our country with the blood sweat and tears of our village heroes, our legislators and Casino Barons are attempting to drag us all back to another hell! Some of the country’s cities already boast vibrant nightlife. It was reported that Sri Lanka’s tourism industry is keen to create more entertainment venues to attract high-spending foreign and domestic fun-seekers, although it recently banned billboards showing scantily-clad women following protests by Buddhist clergy.

No gambling in many neighboring countries

It must be noted that our neighboring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Afghanistan and the Middle East do not allow gambling, The Muslim countries governed by the sharia law forbids gambling and casinos. Lord Buddha in the Parabhava Sutra described gambling, alcoholism and addiction to illicit sex as the three portals to abject poverty. The most venerable high priests of Malwatte and Asgiriya could advise the President and the lawmakers to veto casinos and all forms of gambling including betting on horses. Our people should realize that the word ‘casino’ implies its final effect which is ‘cash no’/or loss of their hard-earned money. The story of a Sri Lankan who was employed by the United Nations who came back to Sri Lanka to spend his retirement and lost all the savings amounting to several millions in a few weeks of visiting the casinos and finally had to dispose of the house and property in order to survive is a good eye-opener.

Ultimate victims women and children

The ultimate victims are innocent women and children, who fall into untold misery as the head of the family faces abject poverty with a host of unsettled debts due to betting on horses or playing at the casinos. The devastation caused by gambling in our society now, and to future generations can be no less than that caused by drugs, alcohol and tobacco. It is well known that no person has ever made money by gambling and lived a happy life. Temporary winnings are finally lost, making the casino barons and the betting-centre owners rich thus enabling them to lead luxurious lives at the expense of the poor masses. Although it has been said that the casinos would be restricted for the use of foreign tourists, it would be impossible to prevent the local people from entering these casinos by hook or crook.

The political will necessary to eradicate the gambling menace from Sri Lanka seems to be lacking, which may be due to the misfortune of Sri Lankan society. The aspiration of the Sri Lankan people to live in a gambling free society appears to be a distant dream at the present time. Our religious leaders are also silent although in preaching the dhamma it has been explained that gambling leads to poverty.

Let me conclude in lighter vein by recounting an encounter between a one rupee coin and a thousand rupee note in a till.”Where have you been” asked the one rupee coin. “Well, I have been travelling all over the country” said the thousand rupee note. “I have been hanging out at casinos, betting centres, five star hotels, restaurants, super markets, tourist resorts, shopping malls and all kinds of places. What about you?”

The one rupee coin said “Oh you know, the same old stuff-temple, temple, temple.” This seems to be true as even a beggar does not accept a one rupee coin at the present time.

The author is an Attorney-at-Law

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Rolling the dice in Sri Lanka: Are casinos eroding our society?

‘Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days, Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays, And one by one in ...