CNMI SENATE KILLS CASINO BILL

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Voters rejected proposal twice

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 4, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, the Senate killed yesterday House Speaker Froilan C. Tenorio's (Cov-Saipan) bill allowing casino operations on Saipan three years after voters rejected the same proposal.

Seven of the eight senators present in yesterday afternoon's session held on Tinian voted "no" to House Bill 17-55, House Substitute 1.

Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) abstained from voting, while Sen. Luis Crisostimo (D-Saipan) was absent.

Taimanao, in an interview during a session break, said she abstained from voting because she wanted the people of Saipan to decide on allowing casino operation on their island.

She said in the absence of other revenue-generating industries on Saipan besides tourism, casino operation would be able to help the economy but again, she wants Saipan voters to decide on this matter.

"I'd rather abstain than say yes or no," she added.

When Senate President Paul A. Manglona (R-Rota) read the results of the voting on the casino bill, 7-0, with one abstention, the crowd erupted in cheers.

Among those in the crowd gathered in the cafeteria of Tinian Elementary School who voiced opposition to the Saipan casino bill were Tinian Mayor Ramon Dela Cruz, former Tinian mayor Ike Quichocho, former senator Jose M. Dela Cruz, and resident Francisco A. Hocog.

Tom Liu, general manager of Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino, said they are pleased to hear the vote on the Saipan casino bill, and thanked the senators for not passing it.

He said having a casino industry on Saipan will compete with the struggling casino industry on Tinian. Dynasty has been in operation for 12 years. Liu said they have barely recouped their investments.

Liu also said that Tinian Dynasty is not shutting down, contrary to the House speaker's statement when the House passed his casino bill last week.

Senate Vice President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) made the motion to vote on the casino measure.

Prior to voting on the bill, senators took turns explaining their position on the casino measure. Almost all of them spoke in the vernacular.

Sen. Juan Ayuyu (Ind-Rota) was the first one to share his thoughts on why he would vote "no" on the bill, citing its ill effects on the casino industries on Tinian and Rota.

"I will not support this bill also because I believe it's not right for one member of the House to persuade or undermine other members. The people of Saipan should be the one to vote on the casino bill," he said.

Hofschneider was the second one to explain his vote, followed by Sen. Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), Senate floor leader Pete P. Reyes (R-Saipan), Taimanao, and Sen. Henry San Nicolas (Cov-Tinian).

Reyes said senators must respect the voice of the Saipan voters when they twice rejected the casino initiative; the last time was in 2007.

Chelette San Nicolas, a Tinian resident who was present at the Senate session, said she was relieved that the casino bill failed to pass because Saipan voters already voted down the initiative years back.

"There's already an industry on Tinian and soon Rota, so why not just help these industries instead of compete with them?" she said in an interview.

Another Tinian resident said she's glad the senators left it up to Saipan voters to decide whether to allow casinos on the island.

HB 17-55, HS1 passed the House on a 10-6 vote with three abstentions.

The speaker's substitute casino bill increases the share of casino gaming revenue for Rota and Tinian, from only 2.5 percent each to 25 percent each. Saipan will get 50 percent.

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