Only 14 Attend Saipan Casino Bill Hearing

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12 offer support in hopes gaming could benefit economy

By Emmanuel T. Erediano

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, July 25, 2013) – Of the 14 members of the public who attended the Saipan casino bill public hearing at Gregorio T. Camacho Elementary School on Tuesday night, only two spoke against House Bill 18-45 —Ambrose Bennett and Ignacio Cabrera.

The rest believed that the measure will help revive the local economy which has been in a slump since 1998.

Saipan Zoo owner and former Rep. Frank DLG Aldan said he has spoken with Chinese investors who want to build a new hotel-casino with a convention center and are willing to "help enhance" the struggling casinos on Tinian and Rota. He did not disclose the investors’ identities, but two of them attended the public hearing.

Former Rep. Alvaro Santos also expressed support for the Saipan casino bill, saying "times have changed."

He said casino legislation was rejected by voters in 1979 because the church was against it, and the casino was branded as an "evil institution."

But Santos said this was proven false after the Tinian Dynasty Casino was built.

A Saipan casino initiative was also rejected by voters in 2007.

Former Department of Public Works Secretary Juan "Liling" Reyes said it breaks his heart to see young people having difficulties finding a job because of the poor economy.

He urged the senators to compare the number of gambling addicts to the number of people who will benefit from the revenue that will be generated by a Saipan casino industry.

Real estate appraiser Vicente Manglona Sablan believes that the casino operation on Saipan will help the Retirement Fund survive, adding that it is very important that the retirement system stay alive so retirees can continue to receive their pensions.

Bennett, a retired teacher, reiterated the statement he made during the public hearing on Tinian on July 19, pointing out that no feasibility study has been conducted on the effects of Saipan casinos.

He urged the senators to reject H.B. 18-45.

"We have been dealing with this casino issue for over a decade and to date, none of the proponents of Saipan casino gaming have conducted social and economic impact studies to determine who and how many will patronize the casinos, or to determine the number of jobs, what kind of jobs and who will fill these jobs. Most importantly there has not been a cannibalization study to determine the adverse effects of Saipan casinos on businesses like Tinian Dynasty, Duty Free Shopping and tour activities," Bennett said.

Cabrera, for his part, said Saipan the casino proposal should be placed on the ballot so voters can decide.

He expressed doubt that many casino investors will come in, adding that the initiative approved by voters on Tinian allows for five casino licenses but the island has only one casino, Tinian Dynasty, which has been incurring losses since it opened in 1998 and now owes the government millions of dollars in unpaid taxes.

Independent Sen. Frank M. Borja, a former Tinian mayor and gaming commissioner, expressed disappointment at the low turnout for the public hearing.

He continues to encourage the general public to participate in the next public hearing so that the Senate can hear their sentiments.

He noted that when the House passed the bill, some complained that no public hearing was conducted.

"So the Senate wants to do it differently. We want to hear the people’s concerns. Yet there is not much participation I hope in the next meeting to hear more from the people," Borja said.

Unlike the hearing on Tinian, where all who attended opposed the Saipan casino bill, Tuesday’s hearing saw the participation of residents who support the measure.

"But we need to hear both sides because the Senate really needs to make a sound and prudent decision," he said.

The other senators who attended the Tuesday public hearing were Senate Vice President Victor B. Hocog, R-Rota; Sen. Jovita M. Taimanao, Ind.-Rota; Sen. Francisco Q. Cruz, R-Tinian; and Sen. Joaquin H. Borja, R-Tinian.

Two more public hearings will be held on Saipan: on July 30at the multi-purpose center, and on July 31 in the House chamber. Both will start at 6 p.m.

A public hearing will also be held on Rota early next month. More details will be announced soon.

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