above the law on Vesak booze ban
The Government had imposed a six-day ban on the
public sale of alcoholic drinks in view of this year's Vesak celebrations
-- and the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi -- but inside the well-lit casino
in Kollupitiya as many as 300 guests were playing Blackjack, Roulette,
Baccarat among other games trying their luck in gambling as Vesak
was dawning on Friday.
|Cheers to the spirit: Vesak illumination by
As I took up my seat more guests were welcomed
by the neatly-attired doorman greeting them with either a "Good
luck sir" or "Good luck madam”, as the case may
be .Many of them appeared quite comfortable already when I dropped
in at one of the more popular casinos in residential Kollupitiya
close to midnight , and on the eve of Vesak.
The government’s official ban on liquor
in view of the Vesak celebrations was made a mockery with liquor
being openly served. Hard spirits, and beer were served on fine
silver trays to all those who had cared to visit.
One guest, whisky glass in hand, told me that
he had gone to his local club to see if he could tip the waiter
to get him a drink, but had been turned down. Then he had heard
that the happening place where you could get a drink was the casinos.
"So here I am", he said with Rs. 500 worth of chips in
his hand -- the mimimum requirement to qualify to be in there and
for a tot or two.
Locals and foreigners mingled freely with smart
but under-dressed ladies of the night from different nationalities
as the tables groaned under the weight of the elbows of men and
women chancing their luck.
The situation was similar in other casinos in
Colombo's unofficial red light area, though a few of them confined
themselves to serving soft drinks and soups trying to respect the
Government ban on alcohol.
Elsewhere in the country, the Excise Department
was working round the clock to pounce on those selling or transporting
liquor and looking for restaurants, clubs and hotels violating the
regulations. More than 230 raids were conducted by an army of Excise
men by Friday noon and they were expected to continue their operations
until midnight Friday.
All night clubs in star-class hotels were closed,
and some hotels tried to accommodate unruly tourists demanding alcohol
by serving it discreetly with pre-dated bills as the Excise Department
issued stern warnings of fines upto Rs.100,000 per bottle that was
sold and possible jail sentences.
But Excise Chief Prakrama Ekanayake conceded that
casinos were serving liquor even on Poya days and that they were
unable to take legal action under the existing Excise Ordinance.
He said that at the Casinos they were only "serving liquor
free of charge similar to a person hosting a guest at his home”.
And what is more, casinos do not come under the provisions of the
Excise Ordinance as licences to them are issued by the Inland Revenue
Department, and they do not need a liquor licence to serve drinks
free. It seemed that it was business as usual for some of these
casinos. And they did not want to even keep to the spirit of the