CNMI Casino Supporters Rally As Hopes For Saipan Air Fade

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Saipan casino pushed as ‘viable source of revenue’

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 2, 2012) – Now that Saipan Air ceased its operations and dashed the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ (CNMI) hopes for economic recovery starting this year, pro-casino proponents said there's a need to push more strongly an ongoing signature petition to put the question of legalizing casino gaming on Saipan on the Nov. 6 ballot to help save the local economy from collapsing altogether.

Rep. Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan) said while Saipan casinos won't result in "immediate" cash infusion to the CNMI economy the way Saipan Air could have done, Saipan casinos could generate new money that the CNMI does not currently have.

"Casino is one way to help our economy. It's better than nothing at all. I don't see any other plan. Saipan Air would have been the new major driver of the economy but like I said earlier, it's understandable why Saipan Air made the decision. It's beyond their control," Palacios told Saipan Tribune.

Tan Holdings announced on Friday that Saipan Air was ceasing its operations effective immediately after its supposed partner, Swift Air LLC, reneged on its promise to deliver an aircraft a week before the airline's planned July 1 inaugural flight. Swift Air filed for bankruptcy, despite receiving wire transfers of over $1.2 million from Saipan Air.

House Ways and Means Committee chair Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan) said he hopes more people will now support legalizing casinos on Saipan because it is a "viable source of revenue," considering that Saipan Air has been removed from the economic recovery equation.

"I hope people will sign the casino petition. I don't see any other option as good as Saipan casino," he said.

Dr. Jack Angello, one of the movers of the Saipan casino petition, said they are now pressed for time to gather 2,590 signatures to place the casino question on the ballot. He said they will submit the signatures to the Office of the Attorney Genera on July 9, a Monday.

The 2,590 signatures represent 20 percent of the 12,948 registered voters on Saipan.

As of mid-June, the signatures gathered and submitted to the Office of the Attorney General totaled only 497-way below the required 2,590.

"Basically we have only a week. We will be actively working on getting community members to sign the petition," he said, adding that their estimate is that they have already 1,500 signatures but most of the packets are still with volunteers so they wouldn't know for sure.

Besides Angello, the others that are leading the casino signature petition are Vice Speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), Basa, and former House speaker Pedro "Paduna" Deleon Guerrero.

"This is for the benefit of the economy. If people are really concerned about the economy, the Retirement Fund, medical referral, education and other public services, then they should give Saipan casinos a chance," Angello said.

Angello said for those who want to sign the petition, they should contact him, Torres, Ogumoro, Basa, or Deleon Guerrero. A petition signing event may be scheduled this week to get more signatures.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) also urged Saipan voters to sign the casino petition so that the question will be placed on the ballot.

He said the voters should be the one to decide on this issue. The Senate killed twice House proposals to legalize Saipan casino gaming through legislation. Senators said it should be done through constitutional amendment.

Moreover, the Fitial administration continues to analyze budget figures so see whether it could revise its fiscal year 2013 budget of $102 million.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said on any form of budget revision could come as early as today.

Lt. Gov. Eloy S. Inos said the administration was already prepared to add $5 million to $7 million to the $102 million projected revenue for 2013, but Saipan Air's announcement of indefinite postponement-and later on cease of operations-changed the whole picture. The additional projected revenues from direct and indirect taxes related to Saipan Air's operations would have helped restore 80 work hours biweekly for most government employees.

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