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Government considers casino to revive Forest City, report says

It says PM Anwar Ibrahim and two prominent tycoons recently discussed the matter.

2 minute read
An aerial view of Forest City, developed on four man-made islands, which has now been dubbed 'ghost town'.
An aerial view of Forest City, developed on four man-made islands, which has now been dubbed 'ghost town'.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim met with two prominent tycoons last week to discuss a plan to open a casino in Forest City, Bloomberg reported, citing sources.

"Anwar, senior government officials and the businessmen had lunch and meetings on the possibility of granting what would only be Malaysia’s second-ever casino licence," the report said.

The report said that apart from Vincent Tan of Berjaya and Lim Kok Thay of Genting, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar "was also represented"

However, the report said the talks were "preliminary" and it was not clear how serious the government was about approving another casino after Genting Highlands.

According to the report, a spokesman for Berjaya denied any knowledge of a plan for a casino in Forest City, while the Prime Minister’s Office and Istana Negara did not respond to requests for comment.

The report comes eight months after Anwar announced the establishment of a Special Financial Zone (SFZ) in Forest City to boost Johor's economy and revitalise the southern development which has been labelled a ghost town.

Last week, Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi said a discussion on SFZ was held during a meeting chaired by Anwar in Forest City.

“Many other agendas were addressed, including the latest status of the JS-SEZ (Johor-Singapore special economic zone) and SFZ policy framework, the prospects of investors who have expressed interest, preferred locations, business sectors, as well as incentives and suitable investment packages to be offered," Onn was quoted as saying.

The Bloomberg report said the casino would give Forest City a boost after it struggled to attract buyers from China following Beijing's crackdown on capital flight, affecting its citizens buying property abroad, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project was fiercely opposed by former leader Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who announced shortly after returning to power in 2018 that foreigners would no longer be allowed to buy property there.

"We are not going to give visas for people to come and live here.

"Our objection is because it was built for foreigners, not built for Malaysians. Most Malaysians are unable to buy those flats," he had said.

Forest City was planned as a futuristic "green city" on four man-made islands and was developed by China's Country Garden Holdings Company in a joint venture with companies owned by the Johor sultan.

Mahathir had spoken out against Forest City in the run-up to the 2018 general election, which led to the fall of the Barisan Nasional government.

The Bloomberg report quotes sources as saying that members of the royal family or "authorised representatives of the king" could be invited to take a stake in a casino.

MalaysiaNow has also reached out to PMO and other senior officials for a response.