Despite the fanfare and spirited debate about legalizing casino gaming on Saipan for years, only a few hundreds signed a petition to place the question on the Nov. 6 ballot, prompting its lead proponents to “suspend” the whole petition yesterday.
Dr. John “Jack” Angello, one of the lead proponents of the Saipan casino petition, informed Attorney General Edward Buckingham yesterday of this suspension.
Yesterday was the last day of submission to the Office of the Attorney General of signatures in support of a proposed popular initiative.
“Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control and after conferring with others, we are suspending our particular petition signature drive until a future date. We thank those people who signed the petition and will hold their signatures in reserve,” Angello said in a one-page letter to Buckingham.
Buckingham said the Office of the Attorney General received the document at 4:03pm yesterday.
Rep. Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), another lead proponent of the casino signature drive, separately said, “The petition is not dead.”
“We will continue to get the support of people. It's still in motion. It won't be this year but if there's going to be a special election next year, we would try to have this casino question in that election. Or we could wait for 2014,” Torres told Saipan Tribune.
Torres said they would still keep the signatures they have already gathered, and will continue to gather additional ones.
He said it was disappointing that some people have been saying they will sign off on the petition but never did. He also said the core group met last week and agreed that if they fail to even muster at least 2,000 signatures, they will suspend the petition.
Angello could not be reached for comment yesterday afternoon, but as of mid-June, he presented only 497 signatures in support of placing the Saipan casino question on the ballot.
This was far below the required 2,590 signatures to have it on the Nov. 6 ballot. The 2,590 signatures represent 20 percent of the 12,948 registered voters on Saipan. Torres himself could not say how many signatures were gathered up to yesterday or up to the weekend.
Proponents, including Reps. Ray Basa (Cov-Saipan) and Ray Palacios (Cov-Saipan), said a casino industry could help grow the CNMI economy and could be a replacement for the garment industry, which pulled out from Saipan in 2009.
Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) and others had said they would have also liked the casino question to be placed on the ballot to gauge voters' sentiments about it, instead of placing the decision in the hands of 29 lawmakers.
Similar Saipan casino questions that previously succeeded in being placed on the ballot were defeated; the latest was in 2007. Saipan lawmakers tried to push it through local legislation but the governor vetoed it, saying it is unconstitutional. The court also has yet to decide on the certified question related to the local Saipan casino bill.