Malaysia PM Anwar denies Forest City casino plan is on the cards

The two businessmen were reportedly Lim Kok Thay of Genting Group, which runs the country’s only casino, and Vincent Tan of the Berjaya Corp, which owns Malaysia’s largest lottery business.

Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim speaks during an interview in Germany on March 15. Photo: DPA

In a statement released Friday, Berjaya Corp denied that its founder Tan had been any part of talks to potentially set up a casino in Forest City, saying the report included “inaccurate information” regarding his alleged involvement in discussions with the prime minister.

“We would like to make it clear that Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun has not participated in any such discussions and refute the inaccurate claims presented,” the firm said.

Gambling is considered a major taboo across Malaysia’s multicultural society, particularly among the Malay majority who are predominantly Muslim and legally barred from taking part in any form of punting.

It is also a political hot button issue that could eat away at the already weak support Anwar and his government has from among Malays, who voted in a formidable Malay nationalist minority bloc into parliament in the deeply split 2022 national election.

While some argued that a casino would help boost tourism and tax collection, many more felt that it would bring more harm than good.

“Add one more industry to revive Forest City, prostitution. Then change the name (to) Sin City,” read a Facebook comment by one Azhari Kassim in response to news of the alleged discussions.

Malaysians also questioned the government’s priorities, highlighting the many different issues that need urgent attention as people grapple with elevated living costs made worse by persistent weakness in the country’s currency.


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“We need more parks, better infrastructure … not (a) casino,” commented one Alvin Au in a Facebook post about the purported casino plan.

Despite broad public antipathy against it, gambling has long been a highly lucrative industry in Malaysia.

The Genting Group, which has operated the country’s only casino, located in Genting Highlands, since 1969, reported gross revenue of about 10.2 billion ringgit (US$2.1 billion) in 2023, and paid the government some 313.3 million ringgit in taxes for the year.

The Berjaya Corp’s popular Sports Toto lottery brand was taxed around 106.1 million ringgit in its 2023 financial year, when it earned a little over 6 billion ringgit in revenue.

Analysts said opening up a new casino in Forest City, however, may not bring in as much money as expected, especially with an intensifying crackdown by China’s government on its citizens gambling in popular tourist destinations across Southeast Asia.

“As China tourists are increasingly warned against gambling overseas by their authorities … it remains to be seen if a casino could revive the enormous project,” said Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

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Observers say the political fallout could also be more than Prime Minister Anwar would be willing to deal with, as he struggles to convince the Malays – who make up nearly 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 33 million population – that he represents their best interests.

Anwar double-hats as finance minister and would have final say on approving a casino licence. Issuing a new licence would not be a good look for a Malay-Muslim leader, analysts said.

“I don’t think it’s worth it (for Anwar) because I don’t think a casino will solve the issue (of Forest City),” said political analyst Syaza Farhana Mohamad Shukri with the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

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