CNMI Lottery Commission Allows Saipan Casino To Continue Operating Live Training Facility

Imperial Pacific gets extension allowing time to complete construction of new resort casino

By Cherrie Anne E. Villahermosa 

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, April 26, 2017) – The Lottery Commission on Tuesday granted Imperial Pacific International’s request for an extension of its live training facility at the DFS, giving the casino licensee an extension of one year and four months, or until Aug. 31, 2018, to operate the facility.

The commission also extended the deadline for the completion of the construction of the casino portion of IPI’s hotel project in Garapan from Aug. 11, 2017 to Aug. 31, 2018.

All three members of the commission approved the request for extension during a meeting in the governor’s conference room on Capital Hill.

Viola Alepuyo, IPI’s vice president for special projects, and Alfred Yue, a consultant, represented the casino investor. The commissioners are Department of Commerce Secretary Mark Rabauliman, Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Guerrero and Finance Secretary Larrisa Larson. Assistant Attorney General Martin Delos Santos Angeles represented the Office of the Attorney General.

The meeting went into recess three times before the commission announced a decision.

Acting Gov. Victor Hocog also spoke with Rabauliman, Larson, Guerrero and Alepuyo privately before the commission resumed its meeting to deliberate on IPI’s request.

Based on the original agreement, the live training facility was supposed to shut down on April 30, 2017.

During the meeting, Alepuyo explained the need to extend the operation of the training facility and to extend the Aug. 11, 2017 deadline for the completion of the casino portion of IPI’s hotel.

The commission also amended the license agreement by suspending, until further notice, the implementation of Phases 1 and 2 of the Imperial Pacific project in Marpi.

More than 200 employees of IPI gathered outside the administration building on Capital Hill to express support for their management’s request for an extension. Some told the commission that if the extension were denied, they could lose their jobs.

Reps. John Paul Sablan and Angel Demapan also spoke in support of the extension while Reps. Edwin Propst and Vinnie Sablan said they are not opposing the extension but added that IPI and the commission needed to address some concerns if the extension was to be granted.

Propst asked the Lottery Commission to look at taxing the casino facility to provide more funding for the hospital, medical referrals and the people of the CNMI. He added that he is in support of the IPI employees.

Alepuyo pointed out that the government is already collecting revenue from the casino industry that funds the retirees’ pensions among other critical public programs and services.

Sablan said the commission should also look at the issue of illegal workers hired by IPI’s contactors.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to this and pretend nothing is happening. There are illegal workers, their poor living conditions and the pollution of the environment and these factors cannot be ignored. We need to make sure we take control of this industry and this development and make sure it benefits us and our people. There is a delay in the construction because of the protesting illegal workers. So we should look at these factors also. Don’t make it our emergency. I ask that IPI look into this and take control of their contractors and make sure things are done right and laws are followed.”

In an interview, commission chairman Rabauliman said they had to weigh the pros and cons before coming up with a decision.

“We have come this far with regard to the progress that IPI has made and to yank it now — for me would seem irresponsible. So we want to give them time to finish what they agreed to in the license agreement, and that’s why we considered and approved this extension request.”

Rabauliman said he is aware that some will criticize him for the extension.

“It does come with the territory. [B]ut I say with all the stakeholders that we should revisit the issue so we can face the challenges together and find a resolution that will benefit not only the investors but also the community.”

Alepuyo in a separate interview said with the extension, they can now move forward with the project.

“We need to make sure that we follow the laws and the procedures. We don’t want to rush it — we just want to do it right and that’s why we pushed for this extension.”

Asked for comment, House Minority Leader Edmund Villagomez said: “The extension is a good thing in terms of getting stuff done. We’ve seen a lot of employees showing up today, that is good. They’ve done a lot of good stuff, but we can’t just ignore the bad stuff.”

In a separate interview, Commonwealth Casino Commissioner Joseph Reyes said he is glad IPI was granted an extension, and now they can all move forward. He said IPI should focus on addressing issues and concerns while completing the project.

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