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Sri Lanka hopes tourists come for the sun, stay for the slots

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Tourists explore Galle Fort, a Dutch fortification about 116km south of Colombo. Visitor arrivals in Sri Lanka surged 26.7% last year, to 1.27 million.   © Reuters

COLOMBO -- Sri Lanka has great beaches, wild elephants and ancient temples. But Australian gambling boss James Packer thinks the island nation needs something else if it is to reach the government's ambitious tourism goals: better casinos.

     Packer, chairman of Crown Resorts, is seeking to develop a $400 million casino hotel in Colombo through a joint venture with a local casino owner. Over the objections of Buddhist leaders and opposition legislators, the government has stiffly embraced Packer's argument that improved gambling could lure bigger crowds of Chinese and Indian visitors. Controversially, the government has extended tax incentives for Crown's project as well as two similar ones local developers plan to build nearby.

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