Mariana Islands Lawmaker Pushes More Casinos After Imperial Pacific Fiasco

Posted on: June 13, 2022, 09:22h. 

Last updated on: June 16, 2022, 04:12h.

Imperial Pacific International (IPI) convinced a judge at the end of May that it was going to receive a windfall of cash by the end of the month. It didn’t happen, and an effort to strike its exclusivity for the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan is returning for discussion.

Imperial Palace
Saipan’s Imperial Palace casino before construction came to a halt. Imperial Pacific International reportedly still hasn’t completed its duty to pay tens of millions it owes to the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands. (Image: Inside Asian Gaming)

As a result, Senator Paul A. Manglona wants action, according to Marianas Variety. He is pressing Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider and Senate Floor Leader Vinnie Sablan to consider eliminating IPI’s exclusivity.

Previously, the idea that IPI could lose that exclusivity was considered unconstitutional. However, with the company continuing to fail to meet its obligations, perhaps there is a loophole lawmakers can exploit.

Time to Act is Overdue

Manglona and Senator Edith DeLeon Guerrero introduced Senate Bill 22-23 to remove the exclusivity of IPI’s casino license last year. The Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) suspended the license because the operator failed to fulfill its financial obligations.

Manglona has written several letters to Senate Floor Leader Vinnie Sablan requesting his attention to the legislation, which outlines the steps to resolve IPI’s financial difficulties.

It is evident that IPI has not, cannot, and will not honor its obligation to its employees, contractors, vendors and the CNMI in accordance with the Casino License Agreement,” Senator Paul A. Manglona said.

S.J.R. 22-01, which Deleon Guerrero and Manglona also introduced, asks Governor Ralph Torres to become more proactive. They want him to tell the Planning and Development Advisory Council to immediately provide a report to the Legislature regarding casino projects.

The Senate Fiscal Affairs Committee has already received both bills. They had until April 18 to act. But IPI, whose own parent company wants it to give up, continues to find ways to stall any legal action against it.

Former Chair to Appear in Court

Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona, District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), has ordered former IPI chair Cui Ji Lie to appear in court at 9 AM on June 18. She is to bring financial statements that show why she can’t pay the attorney’s fees she owes due to a contempt of court ruling.

Judge Manglona told Cui that she must testify about her inability to pay over $182,000 in attorney’s fees and costs by June 21. IPI previously stated that Cui and others would cover some of IPI’s multimillion-dollar debt, but they have only made minor payments.

The judge granted the plaintiffs’ petitions for attorneys’ fees on May 19. This was in response to Cui’s violation of court orders regarding preserving electronically stored information (ESI).

Wide-Reaching Fallout

The embarrassing scandal is doing serious damage to individuals across the NMI. Finance Secretary David Atalig presented Department of Finance budget information to the House of Representatives Ways last week. The Saipan Tribune reports that he revealed that the $481.8 million NMI received under the American Rescue Plan Act had already committed $348 million to various projects.

However, there is a significant shortage for one particular allocation – government retirees’ pensions. The government contributes 75% of the benefits retirees receive through their pensions. However, it adds 25% as a voluntary contribution.

Atalig asserted that the amount is around $13 million. Unless IPI pulls through and fulfills its promise to bring in new funding, it can’t provide the additional 25%.

Last year, per its legislation, the NMI government used proceeds from a Community Disaster Loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover the extra percentage. However, that option is not on the table this year.