Guam Regulatory Officials Aware Of Gambling At Fiestas

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Rev and Tax officials ‘under the impression’ governor approved

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 28, 2014) – The governor's office last week said it was unaware that mayors were continuing to use the Tiyan carnival site for casino gambling operations.

However, Julius Santos, spokesman for the office, said Tuesday some regulatory officials were aware of the activity and had been regulating the site, including the sale of alcoholic beverages.

Winnings were being reported to the Department of Revenue and Taxation, Santos said.

"We just found that out today," he said on Tuesday.

Santos said Rev and Tax officials were under the impression the villages had authorization from Gov. Eddie Calvo to conduct gambling operations, so they didn't question the gaming.

Villages have been using the Tiyan site for gambling operations as part of their annual fiestas, said Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann, who also serves as vice president of the Mayors' Council of Guam. He said village mayors have been using the site over the last five months with the approval of the governor.

Except for two villages, Gov. Eddie Calvo approved gambling to take place within the villages themselves, but not at the Tiyan site, according to the governor's office. Some of the gambling that took place at the Tiyan carnival grounds was done without the administration's knowledge.

Gambling during village fiestas must be authorized by the governor.

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz on Wednesday asked the Office of Public Accountability to conduct a financial and compliance audit of the gambling activity at the Tiyan festival grounds.

Cruz said he specifically is concerned about the selection and bidding process for the casino operations and whether there is proper taxation and oversight.

He also questioned the rules of play, including how much the house takes from the wagers and whether or not winners are issued tax forms.

The Office of the Attorney General has announced an investigation into the allegation that village mayors took part in unauthorized gambling operations at the Tiyan carnival site.

The allegations were brought about by anti-casino gambling group Linala Sin Casino. The group raised concerns about gambling taking place at the site following the close of the Liberation Day carnival in August.

The group noted that Guam voters have repeatedly rejected the legalization of casino gambling on island.

Hofmann said the villages of Mangilao, Talofofo, Sinajana, Agana Heights and Dededo have used the site for fiesta-related gambling this year, with proceeds going toward village events and projects. The villages were approved to use the site for two weekends, at the most, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., Hofmann said.

The governor approved 75 days of gambling for villages this year, spread out among 11 villages, according to the governor's approval letters.

The governor also approved 70 days of gambling this year as part of the Liberation Day carnival, Hofmann said.

The money villages collect from gambling concessions at village fiestas is used to support community activities, such as sponsorships for youth sports teams, village mayors said.

"It's a tool for the mayor to make money for the community," Hofmann said.

The confusion as to whether the mayors were authorized to use the Tiyan site could be due to a "gray area" in the approval letters from the governor to the villages that have recently used the site, Hofmann previously told the Pacific Daily News.

In the approval letters to Mangilao, Talofofo, Sinajana, Agana Heights and Dededo, the governor listed the games allowed and dates of operation, but only specified that cockfighting be held within the villages. Hofmann said there was no location specified for other forms of gambling, so mayors might have interpreted this as authorization to hold gambling outside their municipalities.

Inarajan Mayor Doris Lujan, who in January asked the governor for permission to hold dice games, cockfighting, Texas hold 'em and other card games in connection with the Dinana Minagof festival, said they held only Texas hold-em because there was no interest to run the other concessions.

She said all of the gambling activity took place in Inarajan and not at the Tiyan carnival site.

As far as regulating gambling is concerned, Lujan said she and members of the village planning council check in on cockfighting and card games, primarily to ensure minors are not playing and are not being served alcohol.

Rev and Tax

Rev and Tax Director John Camacho said officials from Rev and Tax's ABC Branch, the department's regulatory branch, would ensure operations were consistent with the law.

"Rev and Tax would come by. They paid visits numerous times to see what's going on," he said.

Among the ways Rev and Tax would monitor at the site include whether the mayoral offices were compliant with the dates and times alloted for them by the governor.

Additionally, the ABC Branch ensures the mayors' offices conducting the games of chance are reporting for tax purposes and paying taxes, Camacho said.

"We want to make sure people are complying and meeting their obligations," Camacho said.

Rev and Tax was under the impression that the mayors had received approval from the governor to hold gambling at the Tiyan site, he said.

Hofmann said his village used the Tiyan site for six days in October, raising around $3,000 that went toward village functions.

The Office of the Attorney General sent letters last week to Rev and Tax and the Mayors' Council informing them of the investigation, Carlina Charfauros, spokeswoman for the AG's office, said.

Additionally, all stakeholders in the casino operations were asked to provide information "related to the legality of the ongoing casino gambling operations," according to a release from the AG's office.

Hofmann said the Mayors' Council already has submitted the documents requested of them to the AG's office.

"We provided them with everything they wanted prior to them asking," he said.

He said he submitted to the Office of the Attorney General copies of mayors' letters to the governor, approval letters from the governor outlining the games, copies of tax payments to Rev and Tax and ABC licenses.

"We're looking forward to getting the AG's Office letter once this is done and clearing the Mayors' Council's name," Hofmann said.

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