Saipan Casino Regulator Salaries Should End With Imperial Palace Closed, Lawmaker Says

Posted on: February 1, 2022, 09:11h. 

Last updated on: February 1, 2022, 10:37h.

Imperial Palace is the only licensed casino in Saipan, and has been closed for almost two years. A new legislative bill would strip regulators of their salaries, since no casino is currently open.

CNMI Legislature
Members of the CNMI Legislature. Senator Paul Manglona, far right, wants to suspend the salaries of casino regulatory commissioners when a casino is closed. (Image: CNMI Legislature)

At one point, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) had high hopes for Imperial Palace. The casino in Saipan was going to help the territory grow. But it didn’t take long before the property’s operator, Imperial Pacific International (IPI), started showing signs of struggles and incompetency.

From FBI raids and seizures to slave-like working conditions, and from shady deals to unpaid debts, IPI has seen a level of blunders that make the Three Stooges look like a drama show. In addition to the long list of flaws, the operator could only watch as COVID-19 dragged the casino down further.

Imperial Palace’s Future Uncertain

Imperial Palace has been shuttered for almost two years, with no signs of relief coming. Because Imperial Palace is the only casino in Saipan, there isn’t much of a need to have a gaming regulator. This is especially true when the only casino operator owes the regulator millions of dollars.

Senator Paul A. Manglona pre-filed a bill last week to seek a few changes. The Marianas Variety reports that Senate Bill 22-72 (SB 22-72) would suspend the salaries of Commonwealth Casino Commission members until the CNMI can figure out what to do next.

There are five commissioners in the CCC. Each earns $65,000 a year. That adds up to $325,000 a year, which was supposed to be covered by the payments made by IPI for Imperial Palace. One of the five commissioners resigned last year but still had to be paid.

Given that the operator owes more than $38 million to the commonwealth, any out-of-pocket government expense is a burden on the people. SB 22-72 would change the law so that commissioners would only be paid when a casino is open. When there is no casino activity, they would receive $60 for a full-day meeting and $30 for a half-day meeting. The annual compensation would be capped at $6,000 per individual.

Approval of the Bill Likely

In the middle of last month, Manglona presented similar legislation for the CNMI island of Rota. It covered the Rota Casino Gaming Commission and established the same parameters.

The Rota Legislative Delegation unanimously approved that bill before sending it to CNMI Governor Ralph DLG Torres. It is still waiting for his approval.

All of the troubles caused by IPI have led to initiatives to open the local gaming market to more than one license. However, it was determined last month that any such move would be unconstitutional. In the meantime, IPI’s bills continue to mount and the CNMI continues to lose.