Happy Thanksgiving from GGB; Newsletter Returns December 4

Saipan Trying for Casino—Again

The Pacific island of Saipan needs revenue badly but has been unable in three tries in the last four years to get a casino bill through the legislature to help. Undaunted, the leader of the House of Representatives is giving it another go.

The leader of Saipan’s House of Representatives has introduced a new bill to legalize casinos on the western Pacific island—the fourth in four years—and one that is expected, like its predecessors, to hit a wall in the Senate.

“Things have changed over the past months,” House leader Ralph Demapan told the Saipan Tribune.

Mostly what’s changed is that the government of the U.S. territory needs revenue more than ever. It has been mandated to pay annually into a retirement fund, pensions have been cut by 25 percent, and government health insurance premiums have increased, on top of other public health services.

Which are the only reasons why Senate President Ralph Torres says he’s prepared to consider the latest measure.

The Senate has nine members, three each from Saipan, Rota and Tinian, the three main islands constituting the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. Casinos are legal on Rota and Tinian, whose leaders have been protective of their tiny markets. They claim their casinos would be harmed if casinos are also allowed on Saipan, the largest island of the group.

Which is why the most recent bill that passed the House last June predictably died in the Senate.

Among Saipan’s population of 48,000, casinos remain a divisive issue as well. Voters have twice rejected them over concerns about social impacts.

Demapan, however, says that with the recent legalization of machine gaming and video lottery on the island, he likes his chances. His new bill provides for only one license instead of the multiple licenses envisioned by the earlier bills. His 25-year license will require a US$30 million payment up front and $15 million a year after that, along with a tax on gross gaming revenue and other taxes and fees.