CNMI SENATE REJECTS GAMING BILL

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By Gemma Q. Casas

SAIPAN, CNMI (Mariana Variety, Dec. 19) - The Senate, in an 8-0 vote, yesterday rejected the controversial Saipan gaming bill.

Senator Luis Crisostimo, D-Saipan, abstained.

Introduced by Vise Speaker Justo S. Quitugua, D-Saipan, House Bill 15-322, or the "Tourism Entertainment and Destination Enhancement Act of 2007" would have allowed card and video lottery games at the La Fiesta Mall.

Senator Henry H. San Nicolas, Covenant-Tinian, said he is not only against the bill because of its possible impact on their island’s casino industry, but because it also disrespects the will of the Saipan electorate.

"The people of Saipan already said no to casino -- we need to respect the voice of the people," he said.

Senator Paul A. Manglona, R-Rota, said it wasn’t easy to reject H.B. 15-322 because the jobs of close to 400 contractual government employees were at stake.

But, he added, "The people of Saipan have spoken."

Unlike Saipan, Rota approved a casino initiative in the last election.

The administration said the government could collect some $40 million in taxes if the bill became law.

Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola, Covenant-Tinian, said they want to know the identity of the "serious investor" interested in La Fiesta Mall.

"This bill is dead," he said. "First, we have no authority to disregard the will of the Saipan people. Second, having a casino on Saipan will be detrimental to the Tinian casino industry."

He said a "backdoor" trick to legalize casino-like gaming activities on Saipan sends the wrong signal to potential investors on Tinian.

Also yesterday, more than a dozen people on Tinian held a rally against H.B. 15-322.

Their protest coincided with the visit of Governor Benigno R. Fitial who met with the Saipan, Tinian and Rota mayors on Tinian.

But Debra Fleming, one of the protesters, said they were not protesting against the governor.

"We love the governor but we are protesting the bill," Fleming told Variety in an interview.

She said they are circulating a petition against the lawmakers who supported H.B. 15-322.

"We feel that the House lawmakers committed a gross dereliction of their duties by passing this bill," she said. "We feel violated by this bill."

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