The opening on Thursday of Imperial Pacific’s Grand Mariana Casino on the island of Saipan was marked by protest, as construction workers demonstrated noisily outside the casino’s doors. The workers, mainly from China’s economically depressed Rust Belt, claim they haven’t been paid for building the $550 million project, and won’t leave Saipan until they get their money.

Imperial Pacific Construction Worker protests

The opulent Grand Mariana Casino opened its doors on Thursday in Saipan, but the largely Chinese Rust Belt workers who built its faux-Palladian facade claim they haven’t been paid for months. (Image: chronicleigh.com)

“In addition to not paying us for months, the hourly wages we did receive were well below what we were promised,” one worker, who wished to remain nameless, told the UK’s Financial Times. “We are all very desperate, because we all paid money from our own pockets to the brokers who brought us here.”

In March, a 43-year-old Chinese national died after falling 24 feet from a scaffold on the construction site. As Saipan is a US commonwealth, the incident prompted the FBI to investigate the project’s contractors .

This resulted in the US Department of Labor issuing six-figure fines to three companies for safety violations. The feds also raided the offices of one contractor, MCC International, and charged two of its employees with importing and harboring illegal aliens.

Sunshine Money Laundering Allegations

Imperial Pacific hit the headlines last year when it was revealed that Best Sunshine Live, the small temporary casino it had erected in a Saipan shopping mall, was somehow pulling in more revenue than the biggest casinos in Macau. The casino had been built ostensibly a means to hire and train dealers in preparation for the opening of the Grand Mariana but was generated almost eight times the Macau average.

In December, Danny Ewing, Best Sunshine Live’s former VP of table games, filed a wrongful termination suit against the casino, alleging that it had violated anti-money laundering laws and would regularly advise its customers how to structure their bets to avoid filing transaction reports to US financial authorities. Imperial Pacific denies these allegations.

$1.6 Million Owed, Says Lawsuit

Despite the inexplicably high revenue figures, Imperial Pacific appears to now be cash poor and owes $1.6 million in contractor fees, according to another lawsuit, which the casino’s executives also contest. Despite this, it has pledged to spend as much as $2.5 billion on completing Grand Mariana’s adjoining hotel towers and facilities.

The construction workers, some of whom say they were injured on the job and not properly compensated, believe they are each owed around $6,000 in wages.