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House Passes Bill to Legalize Casino Gambling on Saipan

Soon after more than six hours of wrangling that lasted until pretty much 8pm last evening, the House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing casino gambling on Saipan by a vote of 13-7.

The vote on Residence Bill 18-45, as amended, did not come till following most members defended their stance around the casino bill which its proponents claimed would save the dying NMI Retirement Fund while other folks insisted is actually a “slap in the face” of Saipan voters who had currently rejected comparable proposals twice.

Property Bill 18-45, Home Draft 7 now goes to the Senate which, only two years ago killed a related proposal twice.

“Times have changed,” floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), major author on the bill, stated during the session. Eight other Home members co-sponsored the bill.

Demapan pointed at lawmakers who had been previously strongly against any Saipan casino bill but are now supporting it as the Retirement Fund is only less than eight months away from dying unless huge money infusion is pumped into it.

The bill’s proponents believe the Senate this time will pass this Saipan casino bill.

All the 20 Home members were present at the session yesterday that began shortly after 9:30am yesterday. But it was only soon after a lunch recess at 1:30pm that the debate around the casino bill started as well as the initially adopted floor amendment did not come till 5:49pm.

Members supplied nine floor amendments, two of which were defeated.

The defeated amendments came from Vice Speaker Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), who wanted 100 % of Saipan casino revenues, fees, penalties, and taxes to go toward the Retirement Fund and take away the $50,000 annual salary of Saipan casino commissioners, at the same time as from Rep. Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), who wanted a casino license to become issued to a Northern Marianas Descent casino owned by NMDs which can be essential from creating any advance payments for a casino license.

The lengthy debate wrapped up at 7:56pm, when the vote on the last from the seven adopted floor amendments came in.

In the seven adopted amendments, six had been offered by Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), as well as the final a single was from Rep. Richard Seman (R-Saipan).

Sablan’s adopted floor amendments included removing the provision on an “exclusive” casino license. Seman’s adopted floor amendment removes all poker and gaming devices on Saipan within a year following the granting of casino licenses on Saipan and reserves $3 million for SHEFA from Saipan casino cash.

At 7:59pm, the Property passed HB 18-45, HD7 by a vote of 13-7.

The 13 members who voted “yes” for the Saipan casino bill were Reps. Antonio Agulto (IR-Saipan), Antonio Benavente (IR-Saipan), George Camacho (R-Saipan), Lorenzo Leon Guerrero (IR-Saipan), Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), Christopher Leon Guerrero (Cov-Saipan), Felicidad Ogumoro (R-Saipan), Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan), John Paul Sablan (Cov-Saipan), Teresita Santos (R-Rota), Richard Seman (R-Saipan), Mario Taitano (IR-Saipan), and Speaker Joseph Deleon Guerrero (IR-Saipan).

The seven who voted “no” for the casino bill were Reps. Roman Benavente (IR-Saipan), Trenton Conner (Ind-Tinian), Frank Dela Cruz (IR-Saipan), Janet Maratita (Ind-Saipan), Ray Tebuteb (Ind-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Cov-Saipan), and Ralph Yumul (IR-Saipan).

When the Residence session began yesterday morning, members received public comments such as from those supporting the Saipan casino bill like former representative Daniel Quitugua, former speaker Pedro R. Deleon Guerrero and retiree Antonio Cepeda. No one testified against the bill.

During a session break, Rep. Tony Sablan (IR-Saipan) told his colleagues who have been within the chamber that he hopes no one within the chamber promised any potential casino investor anything due to the fact this “will get you into trouble.”

“The prospective investor is often anybody. I hope nobody created a promise to everyone,” Sablan said.

Maratita later told Saipan Tribune that the passage of the casino bill is “a slap inside the face” of Saipan voters who already rejected similar proposals twice just before.

Dela Cruz stated Japan visitors may perhaps be discouraged from going to the island if you will discover casinos right here, citing a survey.

“This is Japan, our main tourism marketplace. We’re essentially taking a gamble right here. We’re essentially starting a gamble appropriate now,” Dela Cruz said.

When Dela Cruz exceeded the five-minute limit on comments, the Home suspended its rule to let as much as 10 minutes of comment on each round of comments.

Tebuteb stated if the members are so concerned regarding the Retirement Fund’s lifespan, then they really should dedicate all money from the Saipan casino sector for the pension agency.

Conner, for his component, said the purpose why Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino did not prosper was “a large amount of political play,” such as the unfulfilled promise from the then administration for the Dynasty investors that inside two years of Dynasty’s improvement, the Tinian airport is going to be created into an international one.

Demapan read his ready six-page speech justifying the ought to pass the Saipan casino bill primarily to save the Retirement Fund. The government owes the Fund over $300 million in unremitted employer contribution.

“Honestly, can we afford to gamble on doing nothing? I for a single will vote and have no regrets because I choose to attempt and fail than to sit and do nothing at all,” he mentioned.

Yumul cited the social ill effects of getting casinos on Saipan. Other members later on asked that the casino bill be referred back to committee but this was defeated simply because precisely the same committee that reviewed it-Commerce-recommended that the complete membership act around the bill.

 
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