Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) said the issues surrounding Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC should be a concern since the casino operator is the sole licensee on the island, unlike in other countries were there’s no monopoly.
Issues about IPI contractor GPPC Inc. being owed payment, partial delay in the release of payroll, and the recent resignation of two ranking IPI officials were some of the issues that has hounded IPI in the past few weeks.
By Jon Perez Read more about the casino Industry in Saipan at The SAIPAN TRIBUNE
It was recently reported that Cai Lingli has stepped down as director of the company and chair of IPI’s executive committee. She is a relative of majority owner Cui Li Jie and is the second IPI board member to resign after Marco Teng as IPI chair.
“Factoring all the recent events, we need to be very concerned about the future of our casino. Because they are not just one competitor, this is a sole source, single license. It is a monopoly,” Propst told Saipan Tribune. “It’s one thing if there were competitors and one was not doing well, while the other is thriving. But that’s not the case here. The frustration is that because if there’s only one license, if it fails, the entire casino industry fails.”
Propst is open to revisiting Public Law 18-38 that allowed casino gaming on Saipan. “Because there’s only one licensee, perhaps we should revisit that and allow other casinos to compete. Competition is good.”
“If you look at the $15-million annual license fee, for a sole source that’s peanuts. The real money is from taxes. We saw how much can be generated strictly from the business gross revenue tax, which is applied to all businesses.”
He added that Saipan is the only one that does not collect a gaming tax, unlike Tinian and Rota, but that would be a problem now. “Apparently we could not even have a 1 percent gaming tax because this casino is struggling financially. If they were not struggling, they would not have a problem making payroll.”
Propst said it in his best interest to see the casino industry on Saipan succeed but laws must be implemented and followed. “I want the casino industry on Saipan to thrive but I also want it to be properly regulated and to follow all laws—local, federal, and environmental laws. …The fact that the casino license agreement has been amended five times to benefit the casino without benefitting the people is disappointing.”
He is suggesting that safeguards be put in place if IPI is granted another extension. “There will be a sixth amendment to once again extend the completion deadline for the casino.”
“The CNMI government must renegotiate its terms to include at the very least a completion or performance bond to ensure the casino hotel overlooking Garapan will be completed, even if IPI decides to leave or suspend their business operations.”
Propst said CNMI officials—the Commonwealth Casino Commission and both gaming committees in the Legislature—should find answers to a lot of issues and other questions.
“The best solution is to have an honest and transparent conversation with IPI [officials]. The Aug. 31 deadline is quickly approaching. It’s less than two weeks away. If they don’t have the financial capacity to complete casino, then we should be concerned.”
He said it would be a huge problem for the CNMI if ever the hotel project is left undone. “Imagine if that building stays that way for the next several decades. It will be a haunting reminder that this casino failed us all.”
“It is in the CNMI’s best interest to see it succeed but we need to be on point with that. To ensure that they are following the law and everything. Are we expected to ignore all of these violations?”
Propst pointed out that elected officials need to make sure all laws—local and federal—are implemented. “We’re public servant leaders, we’re elected to make sure that we uphold and protect all laws. …They are giving us money, so [we’re just supposed to] just turn our heads and pretend we don’t see anything? A large industry come in and violates multiple local and federal laws and get away with it. …When are we going to learn?”