Imperial Pacific International Owes Millions For Failed Casino, Commission Asks for Government Intervention

Posted on: March 2, 2023, 07:01h. 

Last updated on: March 2, 2023, 01:56h.

The Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) in the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) continues to tread water. Imperial Pacific International (IPI) currently owes the regulator $55 million, according to the Saipan Tribune. And it has no indication that it will ever be able to pay.

Construction workers work on the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan
Construction workers work on the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan. The casino’s owner, Imperial Pacific International, continues to rack up bills and now owes over $54 million to the government. (Image: RNZ)

In a meeting this week, the CCC reported that the IPI’s bill continues to grow after missing another deadline.

IPI now owes more than $46 million for its license and $9.4 million for the regulatory fee, according to the CCC. The CCC now says it doesn’t even have enough money to pay its office space rent. It closed its normal offices in January and was operating out of a conference room at a local commercial facility.

In exchange for gaming exclusivity in Saipan, IPI agreed to give the government a piece of the action. It’s supposed to pay $15.5 million for its license and $3.1 million for a regulatory duty, but it hasn’t done so since 2020.

This has put the CCC in a problematic situation since the revenues were marked to fund the commission. Some of the funds were also slated to fund government-led programs, including a retirement plan for civil workers.

Looking for a Miracle

The CCC has repeatedly asked the government to create a bail-out or a loan. The commission approached former governor Ralph Torres when he was in office. They also contacted the new governor, Arnold Palacios, after taking over this past January. But neither government official responded.

CCC board chair Edward C. DeLeon Guerrero has asked the government to offer the regulator a loan, stating the CCC would pay it back once it received payments from IPI.

Arbitration Dragging On

The situation with IPI got so bad that a judge approved a series of auctions of Imperial Palace assets to pay down the company’s debt. So far, the sales have generated more than $1 million as a fourth auction approaches.

But this has barely made a ripple in debt. In addition to the money it has to give the CCC and CNMI, IPI also has outstanding debts with contractors and employees.

The CCC is currently in arbitration with IPI. A judge recently ordered the two to sit at a negotiating table, arguing that IPI had a right to plead its case despite its repeated failures.

The regulator continues to hold monthly meetings — despite having no money. Its situation will likely deteriorate further before anything is resolved, as the two sides won’t meet until the end of May.

There’s no guarantee that the CCC can make that meeting. The arbitration proceedings will take place in Hawaii. But if the regulator has no money now, it might not have any then to cover travel expenses.