Sri Lanka legalised gambling earlier this week to boost tourism amid criticism from the opposition and religious groups.
The government passed the Casino Business Regulation Bill with an overwhelming majority of 81 votes in Parliament dominated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa-led United People’s Freedom Alliance and its allies.
Gambling would now be legal in designated areas, deputy finance minister Sarath Amunugama told Parliament, adding that the new bill would ensure a central control on licensing new casinos and gambling outlets.
The Bill proposes requiring a license to set up a legalised gambling center and imposing a hefty fine of $45,000 and a five-year jail term for violators.
Following the end of the civil war in May 2009, the government has focused its attention to promote the tourism industry and the proposed legislation on gambling and betting could be seen as a measure to attract tourists to the country.
But the move has irked the opposition which said the government was attempting to convert Colombo to a city of gambling dens and the move could also give impetus to prostitution.
Christian and Buddhist leaders condemned the move.
Currently, a handful of casinos and several betting centres, function in Colombo exploiting loopholes in existing laws.