CNMI Senate Rejects Proposed Saipan Casino Bill

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Now ‘dead’ bill’s intent to generate revenue to pay retirees

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Nov. 27, 2013) – In a surprise move at its Rota session yesterday afternoon, the Senate voted 7-1 to essentially kill a Saipan casino legalization bill that the House of Representatives passed in June. This is the third time that the CNMI Senate rejected, in one form or another, a similar gambling proposal that Saipan voters had also twice rejected.

At yesterday’s session, the Saipan casino bill was initially withdrawn from the Senate Resources, Economic Development and Programs Committee that Sen. Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian) chairs.

Borja himself made the motion to "file" the Saipan casino bill.

Of the eight senators present at the Rota session, only Sen. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan) voted against filing—or rejecting—the revenue-generating bill.

The seven who voted to basically kill the bill were Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan), vice president Victor Hocog (R-Rota), floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan), and Sens. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), Frank Borja (Ind-Tinian), Jack Borja (Ind-Tinian), and Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota). Sen. Jovita Taimanao (Ind-Rota) was absent.

"By them voting to file it, the bill is dead and it will not be entertained again," Reyes told Saipan Tribune last night.

Reyes said the Saipan casino bill intends to generate new revenue to help retirees that are now struggling with a 25 percent cut in their pension.

"We’re trying to help retirees. I felt that it was better to try passing a (Saipan casino bill) rather than not try it at all. For the retirees, there’s no sign of hope that the government, the Legislature is doing something (to restore the 25 percent cut)," he said.

The Senate president, meanwhile, said he voted to file the Saipan casino bill because he would like to "get more thorough feasibility study and economic impact" study.

"In the meantime, we have the video lottery bill on the table and we’re working on the electronic gaming (bill)," Torres said.

But Reyes said the video lottery industry will not generate revenue until investors recover their investment "and that will take several years."

The Inos administration, meanwhile, has re-established a Lottery Commission to ensure proper oversight of gaming activities and law enforcement review of gaming activities, especially in light of the recent signing of a bill legalizing video lottery in the CNMI.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos has instructed the commission, led by chairman and Commerce Secretary Sixto Igisomar, to move swiftly in implementing the programs. The commission seeks to have the initial request for proposal for video lottery terminals released either this week or the early part of December.

Reyes also said the electronic gaming bill seems to be the "only hope" but the conference committee report recommending passage of the bill was withdrawn from the Senate session agenda.

"Who knows when it will be acted on? We don’t want to impose high fees on investors that will discourage them from putting up the business," he said.

The senator said a joint committee from the House and Senate worked on the electronic gaming bill twice, only to be withdrawn from the Senate session agenda by the Senate president.

Legalizing casino operations on Saipan has been a divisive issue on the island. Its opponents have been citing casino gambling’s social ills, among other things, and have been pushing for other revenue-generating ideas. They said Saipan already has poker machines and soon, video lottery terminals and perhaps electronic gaming. They also said that Saipan voters had already rejected the idea twice.

Lawmakers supporting casino gambling on Saipan said this is the only industry that could immediately pump millions into the government coffers just on application fee and license alone. They added that there has never been alternatives proposed that could generate millions in a short period of time to help retirees and provide more funds for public health, public safety and education.

Besides rejection by Saipan voters twice, a Saipan casino bill was already rejected twice by the Senate; the last one was two years ago.

Tinian and Rota voters allowed casino operations on their island. Right now, only Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino is in operation.

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