Sri Lanka has a long history of gambling being popular in the country, especially horse racing, which has been pretty vibrant since all the way back in the 1940’s, and they had the first racetrack in the world to install a tote board, back in 1922.
Gambling in Sri Lanka has been going on ever since, and most Sri Lankans partake in gambling. For a long time this was a grey market, unregulated but tolerated, until 2010 when gambling became officially legalized, and a license became required to operate a gambling enterprise here, along with the proceeds being subject to a fairly heavy taxation rate. (1)
The real plan here isn’t so much to profit from the gambling done by Sri Lankans as much as it is setting its sights on the potential for gambling from tourism, and to increase tourism generally, especially from casino starved India, the big country next door with over a billion people.
Sri Lanka does have a pretty big gambling market themselves though provided from their population of a much more modest 21 million, and gambling remains very widely accessible in this country, at least land based gambling anyway.
The plan is to expand Sri Lanka’s casino offerings though, on top of the 9 that are up and running presently, with 8 of them being in the capital of Columbo, and 1 in Kollupitiya. (2) This is in addition to the many smaller casinos and betting shops in the country.
While tourists prefer casino games, the people here tend to prefer sports betting as their major form of gambling, especially betting on cricket matches, although they are known to partake in other forms of gambling as well.
The goal here though is to look to segregate gambling to one specific area of the country, an intention which they recently proved by turning down a $400 million hotel and casino project that wasn’t to be built in their preferred area. So the government may be eager to expand the land based casino business here but they are not all in quite yet. (3)
The level of taxation here is also seen to be a concern as it’s currently set at 10%, which is a pretty hefty amount considering that the casino or operator needs to make a profit here and this results in reduced payouts to players. Given the fact that most of the gambling that goes on here is land based, and the tax rate applies to all of it, there isn’t much competition, although at least in terms of the Sri Lankan people themselves, this may change as more and more people get access to the internet. (4)
Playing Poker in Sri Lanka
There are two-land based poker rooms in Sri Lanka, both in Columbo, providing a total of 43 live poker tables. Sri Lanka isn’t a large country by area so this puts everyone within a reasonable drive of one of these poker rooms should they decide to want to play some live poker.
This is certainly a good amount of poker tables for a country of this modest size though, and there are quite a few larger countries that have casinos but not this many poker tables.
Sri Lanka also now hosts a stop on the India Poker Championship, a series of monthly tournaments designed to promote the growth of poker in India, and now the tour has an international component. Poker has really grown in India over the last few years and this tournament in Sri Lanka is helping promote the game in Sri Lanka as well.
What is holding Sri Lanka back the most from seeing poker grow even more is the lack of internet access presently in the country. Only a small percentage of Sri Lankans have internet access, although that will likely change in the coming years, but this is definitely a developing country where the internet is concerned.
Given this, Sri Lanka has not of yet contemplated licensing and regulating online gambling and online poker sites, but this may change as more and more people get access to the internet.
For now though, Sri Lankans are free to play at any of the foreign based websites out there, and there is at least a little action going on here from them. There are no restrictions here like in many countries, and players can simply use popular internet wallets to move money in and out of poker sites.
There are no poker sites offering play in either of the two main Sri Lankan languages, nor do any conduct transactions in the local currency, and this no doubt has an effect upon the popularity here, but it really doesn’t take that much for a player to familiarize himself with another language, usually English, to at least be functional enough to play online poker.
So while the population of online poker players from Sri Lanka, and the population of poker players generally, is pretty small right now, there is certainly room for growth here, and in time, as more and more people become both more familiar with poker and have more opportunity to play online poker with access to the internet, we will see more and more Sri Lankans giving online poker a try.
For now though if you wish to play online poker and are from Sri Lanka, the poker rooms await.
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