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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Dec. 17) - SOME of the 397 government employees who may lose their jobs on December 22 now believe that the administration is using the issue to "blackmail" and "pressure" the Legislature into passing the Saipan gaming bill.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr. acknowledged that "that’s what people have always been saying (but) I think it’s a very cynical take on their part -- we’re dealing with numbers and those numbers don’t lie."

The House of Representatives has already passed H.B. 15-322 which will allow casino card games and video lottery terminals at the La Fiesta Mall.

The CNMI government acquired the La Fiesta building in 2004, and part of the complex was subleased by Bridge Capital early this year.

Speaking on condition of anonymity some government employees said they were told that the bill’s passage will save their jobs.

"We heard that only a third of (the US$40 million projected revenue from the gaming operations in La Fiesta) is needed to finance our salaries," said one government employee who received two termination letters in the past. Both were rescinded.

Another employee said that although her previous termination letters were also rescinded, she fears that she will lose her job if the bill doesn’t become law.

The salaries of the 397 contractual government employees are funded only until Saturday next week.

An undetermined number of them, however, have already been renewed.

Press Secretary Charles P. Reyes Jr., in an interview, said, "Everybody knows factories are closing down. Everybody reads the papers almost everyday. We’re not making up the economic situation, especially with the federalization (issue) compounding the problem. The governor’s priority has always been economy first, not politics. That’s always been our mantra from day one. The governor is offering realistic solutions."

The administration earlier said that a "serious investor" wants to turn La Fiesta Mall into a shopping and gambling center.

The administration declined to identify this investor.

H.B. 15-322 remains pending in the Senate which is scheduled to hold a session tomorrow.

Tinian lawmakers earlier said they oppose the measure, but no one among Rota’s three senators have yet to speak about the issue.

Casino gaming is legal on Tinian and Rota. Last month, Saipan voters rejected a casino gaming initiative.

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