Saipan Casino Developer Imperial Pacific Blames Lack of ‘Qualified’ Workers for Another Three-Year Delay on Pacific Island Project

Posted on: September 4, 2018, 12:00h. 

Last updated on: September 4, 2018, 02:45h.

Saipan’s controversial Grand Mariana Casino Hotel & Resort — currently under construction on the Pacific island and US territory — missed its completion deadline last week. On Monday, it was granted a new deadline by Saipan’s Casino Control Commission: in three-and-a-half years’ time. The casino’s Chinese developer, Imperial Pacific, had initially hoped to finish the project back in 2016.

Grand Mariana Casino Hotel & Resort
Saipan casino project developers of the Grand Mariana say they’ve been set back by a dearth of skilled construction workers, but there’s more to the story. (Image: Moises Saman/Bloomberg)

In a filing, Imperial Pacific said the delay was due to “the drastic reduction and non-availability of sufficient skilled and qualified construction laborers locally in Saipan and mainland USA.”

Construction workers may have been put off by recent reports about conditions at the site. In 2017, one worker died after falling from a scaffold. Earlier this year, Bloomberg visited the hospital on Saipan and discovered that so many workers had been injured during the construction of the casino that hospital staff kept an unofficial spreadsheet.

It read like “a grim catalog of broken bones, lacerations, puncture wounds, dislocated limbs, and eyes penetrated by flying metal,” Bloomberg reported.

FBI Revelations

The worker’s death prompted an FBI investigation, which revealed that many in the project’s workforce had been brought to Saipan from China without visas. Two contractors were charged with importing and harboring illegal aliens.

The FBI’s Wage and Hour Division then found that workers were paid less than the minimum wage — if they were paid at all — and had incurred debts of $6,000 or more each, because they had been required to pay their own plane fair and “recruitment fees.”

Four contractors were ordered to pay back wages and damages to over 2,400 workers, totaling some $13.9 million, as part of their settlement with the US Department of Labor.

Billions in Wagers

In March of this year, Imperial Pacific said in a filing that it was still raising money to complete the $600 million project.

That’s despite the fact that the temporary casino erected in a small shopping mall — ostensibly to train dealers — reported revenues of $49.2 billion for 2017, far exceeding the VIP transaction volumes of most major casinos in Macau, the world’s biggest gambling hub.

Even more staggering is the fact the Hong Kong-based developer has never developed or operated a casino before. Until recently, it was known as First Natural Foods Holdings Ltd., a company acquired by a mother and son who grew rich from the Macau junket industry and property investments.

Imperial Pacific is currently suing Bloomberg over an article that alleged financial improprieties on the island, which it vehemently denies.

In return for the new building deadline extension, Imperial agreed to donate $500,000 to a healthcare organization on Saipan.