The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka Becoming A Gambling Paradise

  • Where Have All The Dharmishta Patriots Gone?

By Jude Fernando

The Buddha in Psar Phrum and Diamond Crown Casino in the background and Hotel guests walk past a statue of Brahma at the Caesar’s Palace Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas

There is little hope that Sri Lanka is on the road to become another Singapore. It still hopes to get there, but it looks like it’s trying to arrive at its destination via Las Vegas after passing the Gaming Bill on November 10. What is mind-boggling is not the legalisation of gambling, but the fact that those who burned and vandalised churches and who vehemently protested against NGOs concerned with human rights in order to protect the religion, culture and sovereignty of the country, are supporting or silent about this measure. They are apparently concerned neither with the fact that casino gambling is a distinctly Western import, nor that it contradicts the religious principles that they profess.
The government’s rationalisation for passing the bill is that gambling is an attractive cultural product for tourists, and expects that gamblers will come from India and the far East more often than from Western countries. In 2006, revenue collection from casino clubs totaled Rs. 282 million, up from Rs. 56 million in only three years. These numbers will surely increase with the introduction of licensed and regulated gaming. But national economic interests are never an excuse to encourage ‘foreigners’ to indulge in immoral activities condemned by our religious traditions.
We must not allow our desire for financial gain to undermine the moral authority of these universal traditions. And it’s not only tourists who will gamble — more and more Sri Lankans will embrace the opportunity to wager. The potential economic gain needs to be weighed in relation to its social, economic and political consequences, and once we factor those consequences into the mix, the legalisation of gambling will be clearly seen to be to Sri Lanka’s detriment.
The measure passed with a majority of 81 votes, with only 33 standing against it. The deep silence of the ‘patriots’ (broken only with an occasional, token protest) forces us to question the sincerity of their avowed commitment to religion and culture. This silence emanates from a Sri Lankan society where state and religion are entirely subordinated to the interests of capital and in which religion-based moral values are subdued for the benefit of capitalism. It is evidence of the moral bankruptcy and complacency of the religious establishment, which stood by as the state undermined religious values.
Apparently, religious values are important to these people only during times of patriotic and nationalist fervour and only when they allow patriots to discriminate against the vulnerable minorities of this country. The apathy and increasing disjunct between patriotic rhetoric and reality can only be explained by the fact that they hypocritically patronise the very systems they condemn.
Though evidence of gambling is found in every society, time immemorial, its perfection as an industry is exclusively North American. It is not a trait of American culture, but a logical development of American capitalism.  Las Vegas became a gambling town because organised crime needed a lucrative cash business where it could launder its money, but corporatists quickly saw the advantage to gambling as a commodity and bought out the mob, pushing legalisation efforts in many states on native American reservations. More nations have joined the gambling-industrial complex and it has grown into a global industry, rivaling the power of pornography as an industry, as companies hoping to expand in the gaming industry are looking to markets in China, Singapore, Macau, Spain, the Bahamas, South Africa, India, and possibly even Russia (Smith 2004).
Sri Lanka had opened its own first casinos in 1977, and bookies existed even before. Today there are over ten casinos and hundreds of gambling places around the country.  In 2004, the government introduced a ‘sin tax’ on casinos.  Today the need for tax revenues has increased and society’s moral outrage against gambling has declined.  With the present law, the Sri Lankan state is simply adjusting to the demands of the global capitalist system by streamlining gambling industry according to the dictates of ‘good governance’ agenda of the neo-liberal institutions.
According to the Las Vegas Review, gaming revenue in the United States is expected to grow to US$ 79.6 billion from US$ 57.5 billion (a 6.7 per cent increase) in 2011. Growth in Asia Pacific is projected to increase to US$ 30.3 billion from US$ 14.6 billion on an average increase of 15.9 per cent per year. Revenues worldwide are expected to increase to US$ 144 billion by 2011, pushed by new markets, new properties in existing markets and upgrades at existing properties.  It would be difficult for the Sri Lankan state to resist following the same path at a time of deep economic crisis.  And, in truth, the state cannot be accused of initiating gambling, but simply expanding something that already exists in various forms. But the multimillionaire owners are politicians, benefactors of the religious establishment, and owners of newspapers.  While gambling has expanded since 1977, institutionalisation increases the divergence between the state’s religiosity, anti-Western nationalism and actual practices.
Simply defined, gambling is playing games of chance for money or goods. Gambling include casinos, lotteries, bingo parlours etc. Advocates of gambling argue that gambling is a voluntary and harmless pursuit of happiness that is financially manageable and psychologically rewarding.  In capitalist countries gambling is considered an individual right and exercise of freedom and an important source of revenue, and the state intervenes only to prevent fraud or abuse.
But portraying gambling as a simple relationship between the gambler and casino is misleading and obscures the systemic nature of gambling and the broader social, economic and political consequences. For example, gambling places a heavier burden on the poor than on the rich.  Much has been written about the negative effect of state-sponsored lottery gambling on poor communities and the fact that lotteries depend upon poor people wagering scarce financial resources on the distant chance of improving their lot.
The economic and social costs of gambling are higher on poor gamblers since they gamble on their limited income at the expense of satisfying basic needs. In Native American casinos, it is not only rich tourists who lose their shirts — the members of the poorest communities in America gamble in the hopes of striking it rich.  Koran wrote: “These data suggest that gambling expenditures may be regarded as a voluntary regressive tax that has a proportionately greater impact on people with lower incomes.” In concluding his article, Koran commented: “The rapid expansion of gambling represents a significant public health concern that challenges our values, quality of life and public priorities” (Koran, 2000).
To attract gambling investors and make the city safer for gamblers, the state transfers resources to develop infrastructure, ‘cleans up’ cities by evicting the poor who are considered unattractive in the eyes of investors and increases surveillance. (In that context, Las Vegas may be the most heavily watched city in the world.) “Gambling breeds crime,” since it is closely associated with the underworld, particularly in countries where law and order is politicised and politicians and businesses are above the law. And it is still a favourite activity for laundering the large amounts of money associated with illegal drug and arms dealing. Spaces of gambling are highly militarised and gendered spaces, where women in particular receive the worst treatment.
Rather than creating wealth, the gambling industry transfers wealth from gamblers to the owners of gambling centers. While a small number of individual gamblers may ‘strike it rich’, the house always wins in the end. The basis of the business is paying out less money than it takes in. This transfer is immoral and economically harmful. US studies have pointed out that “losses fall disproportionately on some of the more vulnerable members of society.” Casinos are accused of displacing — even ‘cannibalizing’ — rival service and entertainment businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and theme parks. Worse, it is alleged, this is achieved by ruthlessly exploiting the addictions of compulsive gamblers, thereby causing financial distress, destabilising families and fueling welfare dependence and crime.
Gambling is also inevitably coupled with the alcohol and sex trade. Global sex trafficking is intimately linked with the gambling industry. Prostitution is common in gambling cities and Vegas is famous for its range of sex trafficking services, from low-rent massage parlours to high-end escort services. Prostitution also pays more than many legitimate jobs and induces female workers to moonlight in the sex trade to supplement their income. (For example, underpaid Los Angeles, California school teachers may work as sex workers in Las Vegas on weekends.) In Singalovada Sutta Buddha notes, “Seduction, gambling, drinking, singing, dancing, sleeping by day, wandering all around untimely, harmful friends, utter stinginess: These things destroy a person.”
It is no secret that during the past few years the number of brothels and the influx of foreign women in the sex trade has increased. Foreign women standing outside the Galle Road casinos are a common site. These women are part of a global network of sex trafficking and are mistreated, abused and dehumanised by society. Once they are in the country, they are beholden to the wishes of their bosses and easily victimised, but the sex workers will not all be foreign. Sri Lankan women, too, will be induced to feed the industry.
The consequences of gambling have no boundaries. With the advancements of modern technology, gambling has been domesticated to the extent that, via the internet, today we can wager from our bedrooms. Many studies have pointed out that gambling is associated with depression, victimisation and violence, characterising a substance-abusing lifestyle. In Sri Lanka and many other parts of the world, we have seen parents abandon their familial responsibilities in favour of uncontrollable gambling, soaking up welfare dollars and then unleashing their disaffected children to wreak havoc on the community.
Families are abandoned and ruined and domestic violence has increased. Compulsive gambling is an addictive disorder characterised by thoughts and behaviours that are increasingly organised around gambling. “Wives or intimate partners of problem gamblers are 10.5 times more likely to visit an emergency room as a result of being physically assaulted.” Previous studies have shown a high rate of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and substance abuse among problem gamblers. Some studies found that as many as 50 per cent of compulsive gamblers also have alcoholism. In addition, the suicide rate is significantly higher among problem gamblers. (Muelleman, R.L. 2004)
The teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity all instruct us to avoid gambling. Yet many take religious teaching out of context to make misleading arguments the texts do not prohibit gambling, but responsible restrain. In Singalovada Sutta Buddha warned the young man of six ways of squandering wealth to be avoided and compulsive gambling was one of them. Although the Bible does not directly condemn gambling, it should be avoided because the motivation and consequences of gambling are inconsistent with Biblical teachings. Gambling is a sin because it manifests covetousness, which God’s law forbids. Gambling also does not encourage Christians to “love your neighbour,” as Jesus commands in Mark 12:31, since gambling winnings depend upon the losses of others.

In the Hindu text Tirukkural, 94: 931-940, we find this:
“Do not take to gambling, even if you can win, for your wins will be like the baited hooks that fish swallow. To win once, a gambler loses a hundred times. What a way to procure happiness and prosperity! Gambling brings on many miseries and erodes one’s good name. Spending time in the gambling hall squanders ancestral wealth and wastes personal worth. Gambling will consume a man’s wealth and corrupt his honesty.  The gambler’s passion increases with the losses incurred.”

In Qur’an, (Al-Ma’idah, Surah 5:90-91):
“O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, of Satan’s handwork: eschew such (abomination), that ye may prosper. Satan’s plan is (but) to excite enmity and hatred between you, with intoxicants and gambling and hinder you from the remembrance of Allah, and from prayer: will ye not then abstain?”

Over the years, however, religions have become less interested in blaming gambling as an ‘undesirable practice’ and more concerned about excessive levels of gambling and lack of personal restraint. Consequently, the boundaries between religion and gambling have blurred. Some religious organisations even resort to methods of gambling in order to raise money for their operations. Interestingly, Las Vegas, also known as, ‘Sin City’ is home to an incredibly high number of Buddhist Dharma groups (36!).
Buddhist defenders in Vegas point out that Buddhist teaching does not prohibit gambling or entertainment, just the lack of restrain about it, in many ways similar to addictions to TV, smoking, reading etc. Vegas is a city where the difference between gambling booths and religion is blurred. The mega-casino Mandalay Bay has a Buddhist theme and is filled with Buddhist statues and Asian gardens and decorations. The Tao Nightclub at the Venetian features several Buddha statues, one very large 20 foot Buddha statue floating over a pond and their billboard advertising features a Buddha with the words, Religious Nightlife, Spiritual Dining, and “Your prayers have been answered.” Caesar’s Palace Hotel and Casino has a large shrine to the Buddhist god, Brahma who, like other gods in the Buddhist cosmology, is impermanent and subject to rebirth like the rest of us until one attains nibbana (nirvana). Similar religious imagery is prevalent in Sri Lankan casinos.
As the moral fibre of society deteriorates, religious values are either jettisoned or modified and what was once a sin is reinterpreted as a blessing. The increasing accommodation of gambling within various religious traditions results from this degradation, which allows religions to rationalise their complicity with the capitalist system. Religions look for ways to further their secular interests by redefining the place of gambling in their religious teachings and they fail to challenge the relationship between gambling and capitalism.
Martin Young’s exploration of the relationship between capitalism and gambling offers this definition of gambling: it is a “state-sanctioned commodification of chance.” Gambling is at the heart of the capitalist system, as we have seen recently and painfully in this worldwide recession, where the bad and risky decisions of capitalists have left whole nations as bereft as a compulsive gambler’s spouse. In pure economic terms, gambling might be considered a decision that rational consumers might make under the conditions of scarcity and ‘bad’ gambling is that which offers extremely high opportunity costs.
But people usually don’t make rational decisions about gambling and are instead influenced by pro-gambling propaganda, information asymmetries and their own levels of financial desperation. Most of all, people who gamble tend to fool themselves about the profit-maintaining imperative of the gambling industry, which all but assures the financial failure of gambler.
Gambling is a regressive tax that masquerades as a potential reward. In Sri Lanka, its true intention is to subsidise a bankrupt state. Gambling was legalised in Sri Lanka at a moment when the state is reducing and privatising social welfare subsidies and is looking for ways to increase its revenues by creating opportunities for the rich to invest their surplus capital. Gambling is just another means of draining the limited finances of the poor and rendering them destitute.
The recent surge in the gambling-industrial complex was spurred by structural changes within the capitalist system. The increase of disposable income in the 20th century has destabilised thrift as a virtue and often made it irrelevant (or an impediment to) survival. Thrift interrupted the cycle of accumulation and consumption upon which 20th century capitalism depended, replacing it with over-spending and credit.    Financial risk-taking began to be seen as an exercise of individual choice. Globalisation of the gambling industry is a result of the deep crisis in capitalism caused by limits to and resistance against its expansion.
In its mindless struggle to survive, it has sacrificed its most traditional virtues: work, routine, thrift, prudence, conservatism, rationality and discipline. Unfortunately, the blindness of the unholy trinity (WB, IMF and WTO) and of NGOs like Transparency International, towards the dangers of gambling, is caused by their emphasis on ‘good government’ above systemic economic forces that compel the governments to legalise gambling.
As such, their main concern is that the government be transparent and accountable in its relationship with the gambling industry, but they are not very interested in the social and economic costs that gambling exacts on our society.
It seems that traditional Christian, Hindu and Buddhist restraint has been replaced by an unfettered increase in spending, at the same time gambling propaganda draws more and more heavily on religious — and especially Buddhist — imagery. Such is the fate of religious principles in a capitalist world. Yet, religion will have its resurgence when we need to find ways of dealing with the psychological and economic distress of gamblers and it will be especially important when the legitimacy crisis of the state deepens: the gambling industry will inevitably fail to solve the economic problems of the masses.
To be effective and to stay true to their principles, religions will have to reverse the trend of critiquing the individual ‘bad’ gambler and instead focus on the evils brought by the gambling industry.
Marx is famous for making this critique of religion:
“Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.” (Karl Marx, Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right)
If religion is to be more than “the opiate of the masses” and maintain its central place as a moral center for human behaviour, it must cease to act as an advocate for capitalist interests and return to its central spiritual mission. Individual powerful representatives of religious sects must turn away from the search for wealth and influence and recommit themselves to the principles on which their faiths are founded, renouncing rationalisation and hypocrisy.

28 Comments for “Sri Lanka Becoming A Gambling Paradise”

  1. Appuhamy

    There is not “Buddhist God”. Buddhists do not believe in Gods. According to Hinduism, Brahma is the god first represented in the Hindu Triad (see Trimurti). He is the creator of the universe and all living beings are said to have evolved from him.

  2. Vimal

    Sri lanka needs money to develop the country. Therefore Sri Lanka needs tourism,
    Sri Lanka needs Indian, Chinese tourist. The most best method I believe is beaches, Duty free trade (like Singapore) and casinos.

    I know most people fear about casino, but the city that I am living in (Canada) has lots of casinos, but they don’t effect for the normal people’s life.
    Once a year we go and work voluntarily at the casinos for 6 days(work at doors or work at counters ), in return casinos pay our Sari lanka Buddhist temple or Sri Lanka Canada Association (who organize the volunteers) around $30,000 each ear. (This is a privilege that given by the Canadian government for non-Profits organization in this city).

    Therefore, If the politician don’t get any commissions in Sri Lanka & money will be used for the people then I believe present Government can develop Sri Lanka Like Singapore using Casinos.

    • upu ranatunga

      Dear Wimal To develop a country gambling or constitutions does not need.
      What need is honesty, & dedication. eradicate corruptions. induce local entrepreneurs. Avoid waste of tax payers money. Avoid foreign loans. I will bet you within another 2 years time srilanka will be like Ithiyopia.

    • Lal Fernando

      .I agree with some of your ideas, but do you think casino is clean game; prostitution should be alone with casino that is obvious. In Canada, lots of foreigners who do whatever the job to survive, but in sri lanak poor girls from villages will end up in casino centres as pros. What will be your explanation for that?

      Casino comes with liquor, crime rate will go up, and places will be unsafe. do you think that crimes can be prevented come alone with casino.

      What will happen to if local sri lankans addicted to casino? What will happen to family structure.
      You see only monitory value, but not the other thing. You are not blamed because since i lived Canada for many years I know how hard foreigners go through to find a suitable job. In that case money is more important than anything

  3. kumsky

    This is for the Chinese. Also, there will be brothels and freer booze. Letss goooo, boyssss!!! Las Vegas will look like a Daham Pasela, when the nation with the fastest growing economy gets going!!!

  4. raymond

    It appears the SLMC headed by Rauf Hakeem has indirectly supported casino gambling!! (Read Qur’an – Al-Ma’idah Surah 5:90-91)

  5. NotCorrupt

    They really have NO idea about running the economy! This is a proposal made by a bendover man and rushed in to plug the huge deficit created by the horrific wastage by MR and government.

    They are only Buddhists by name and when they want to be. Karmaya will catch up with the brothers one day soon.

  6. Orangeaide

    Most Sri Lankans do not care for the Christian fundamentalism that Jude fernando espouses. If Jude Fernando does not like gambling, that is fine – let him pray to God and stay in his church. The rest of the world, and Sri Lanka will move on.


      Ohhh banana, how come you low life, you always seem to bring in Christian Fundamentalist into every darn article ( FYI, becoming one was the best thing that happen to me). Why don’t you become a Christian and then have your say. Do not tread where angels fear to trod. Keep your opinion directed to the subject under discussion – if not take a hike, try drowning yourself in a cup of water or better still go up a mountain on knuckels range and meditate so you can end up like Kurt Cobain!

  7. Bharathiar

    If Sri Lanka aka Ceylon wants to become like Singapore you people must learn to get rid of corruption. Corruption is the fundermental problem in SL preventing the great country to develop. Remember the founder of Singapore Mr.Lee modeled his country after Ceylon! if possible change your country name back to Ceylon!!!

  8. Tharaka

    Currently we have casinos. They are everywhere. Thats makes it difficult to regulate as an industry. This bill suggest that they are place in specific areas. I dont see any problem than what ever problem we have now.

  9. Dalia

    In Singapore, there are restrictions to access to the casinos for Singaporeans. the rationale behind this is so that they will not become addicts and spend money that they do not have. I wonder if such a scheme will be put into place in Sri Lanka, but knowing the way the country is run, I guess not!

    • vimal

      What I propose is get an island (Delf is the best) and develop as full casino like Vagas
      Then all Indian rich people come and spend money there. No need visa(open Visa) to come to that island.

      Who cares if Indian rich people lose money playing casinos. Because those money goes to Sri Lanka Central bank.

  10. Perfect! This is an ideal opportunity for all the government sponsored hoodlums to make a “killing” while more ex-military personnel would be retrained in government sponsored hoodlum activities. Who else could dream of such a business plan that could further generate cash, crimes, prostitution, and lots of government sponsored fun? Hahaha hehehehe
    Sri Lanka deserves this!

  11. Sri Lanka is a hell for it’s citizen, especially for Tamils. But it is a paradise for tourists who do not care what is really going on in the country. Main think for them is a full package tour with luxury rooms, good food, expensive alcohols and sunny beach.

  12. Yoga

    Next the government will have some reason to legalize prostitution, and the religious leaders will have an excuse to justify the action.

  13. Bashir

    What about a second Bangkok? Have R&R joints also for the tourists and locals too who need it most. If you want to open up, give everyone the full works and tax them as well. There won’t be a budget deficit then.

  14. sira

    Casinos are not ment for the ordinatr folks. Only the Rich and New Rich can afford. So why bother? What the Govt has done through this bill is the increase in tax which all humbugs wiil coughout

  15. Laugh

    Sri Lanka has no choice, but to encourage gambling. It is a third world, fly infested garbage dumbp debt ridden courrupt country. Since the war SL is going down economically and is one of the poorest countries in the world. I live in my beautiful westen paradise country and still support poor kids with food, clothing and hosuing through an aid agency.

  16. dagobert

    We bark up the wrong tree.
    Its not the Casinos that will kill Sri Lanka.

    Its corruption and inefficiency.

  17. I am a recovering alcoholic, gambler, and other addiction problems. I published a book, Gripped by Gambling, where the readers can follow the destructive path of the compulsive gambler, a prison sentence, and then on to the recovery road. I recently finished a second book, Switching Addictions, describing the challenges the addict encounters as they work toward recovery. I also publish an online newsletter, Women Helping Women, which has been on-line for more than ten years and is read by women around the world. (


    Marilyn Lancelot

  18. vimal

    —– ‘cleans up’ cities by evicting the poor who are considered unattractive`—

    YES this should be done by someone. WHY not.
    I like to see Colombo as a beautiful and clean city.
    If anyone goto Singapore will see that how much beautiful that city is,
    I believe those people should be removed and should be given proper houses from somewhere else. Those slums currently in Colombo are not good for there life too. .

  19. Sri Lankan Athiest Economist

    i THINK GAMBLING IS MUCH BETTER THAN SELLING BOYS!!! let’s not talk politically correct religious riff raff, 36 000 boys are sold as sex “slaves” for foreign tourists which brings in foreign currency …and your talking about some poor ‘village girls” as prostitute’s garbage. Let’s talk some sense if Sri Lanka is going to come out of the compost heap we Anagarika Bible-Buddhists created we need to “roll our sleeves” get on the dirt and start working and create a new culture like our pre-colonial culture. Buddhist Sri lanka is a SILLY CONCEPT, Country & economy 1st, Religious beliefs 2nd. Plato preached how to govern a republic, Gautam siddharth preached how to govern the self…..not the country. If you’re a buddhist why are you *angry* about a buddha statue in las vegas? You sound a lot like a christian fundamentalist preaching monogamy in front of hollywood boulevard. I think our pre-colonial “sinhalese” culture was better when we had casinos? and rodie caste *prostitutes* who couldn’t cover their breasts?? So let’s talk about issues that do matter like HELPING people and working!! not talk some “dhittadhamma vedeniya karamya nisa boddhisathwayan thamage ekama daruwa “sacrfice” kala seka…for foreign tourists?? sounds a lot like abraham killing his son for the word of God.

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