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HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Sept. 30) – The Solomon Islands may soon see its third casino in Honiara.

The foreign investor, who was sold the National Arts Gallery, is demanding that it be issued a casino licence as part of its proposed five-star hotel development.

But to issue a third casino licence, the Government must amend current legislation that only allows for the existence of two casinos in the country.

Tourism minister Trevor Olovae told the Solomon Star last night the Government is currently working on amending the relevant legislation so that a third casino licence can be issued.

"The investor is demanding that it be issued a casino licence before it starts developing the place," he said. "It is now just waiting for the casino licence before it can start. The Government is facilitating this demand."

As soon as it is done, work by the developer, Constantinou Group of Australia, to turn the National Art Gallery into a five-star hotel should start, Mr Olovae said.

Currently, two casinos - Supreme Casino and Honiara Casino - are operating in Honiara.

The news of a third casino is not likely to go down well with the public, particularly the Solomon Islands Christian Association (SICA). Previous public opposition to Casinos has been stiff.

Critics argue casinos are not a helpful investment because negative impacts on families and the country far outweighs benefits.

It was through public demand that a previous Government legislated against having more than two casinos in Solomon Islands.

If a third casino licence is issued, its operations will become part of the proposed Heritage Park Hotel earmarked to be built on the grounds of the Art Gallery.

The Government sold the National Art Gallery to Constantinou Group for SB$8.2 million (US$1.1 million).

But it said it still retains the Melanesian Cultural Village, located just next to the Art Gallery.

Recently, the Department of Tourism promised to build a bigger Art Gallery that will include a Performing Arts Theatre in the grounds of the Melanesian Cultural Village.

Permanent Secretary in the department, Luke Eta, says the proposed hotel development will create hundreds of jobs.

Meanwhile, Friends of the National Art Gallery are now planning to stage a peaceful protest march Wednesday next week. The group’s representative, Lloyd Hatamana, said yesterday their previous planned protest march did not eventuate due to lack of prior consultation with police authorities.

But he said they’ve acquired the approval and the march will start from Lawson Tama to the Prime Minister’s Office.

"This is a peaceful march to show to the Government our disagreement over the sale of this national asset," Mr Hatamana said.

October 3, 2005

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