The CNMI is a step closer to allowing video lottery terminals after the Senate passed last night a House bill allowing video lottery terminals at certain hotels and airport departure areas to help generate new revenues for the NMI Retirement Fund and scholarship. Senators discussed the bill at length until its passage at 7:14pm.
The video lottery bill now heads to Gov. Eloy S. Inos.
Sen. Frank Borja’s (Ind-Tinian) motion to refer the bill back to committee—which was later withdrawn—almost derailed the bill’s passage last night, at a time when the government is looking for ways to sustain the pension agency’s operations and guarantee at least 75 percent of retirees’ pension.
The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 7-0 with one absence and one abstention from Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian).
It was over two months ago when Inos asked lawmakers to consider video lottery legislation that could be used for debt service for an up to $300 million pension obligation bond. That was the same day the governor signed the authorization bill for the POB.
The Inos administration was awaiting the bill’s passage yesterday.
Jim Stump, the governor’s special counsel, answered senators’ questions during the session about the video lottery bill, including the absence of provisions on how the revenues will be spent and where as well as its impact on what they described as a similar legislation—the electronic gaming bill.
Stump said regulations are now being drafted and those would specify where the revenue would go, among other things.
Senators, including Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan), Frank Borja and Joaquin Borja (Ind-Tinian) asked whether the administration is playing favorites between video lottery and electronic gaming.
Press secretary Angel Demapan separately said both electronic gaming and video lottery allow the same type of game but the difference is in the legal structure.
“Electronic gaming is run by the private sector with a licensing fee paid to the government and video lottery is run by the government with significant controls on all aspects of gaming activity so as to accomplish specific government objectives (i.e., economic development, integrity in gaming, tourism development),” he said.
Demapan said this system has been successfully implemented by states throughout the United States.
Senators, during discussion, said they will support the bill despite their reservations. Reyes, for example, said the government should not compete with the private sector. But he said the bill’s goal to help the Fund and the scholarship program are reasons enough to support the bill.
Senate President Ralph Torres (Ind-Saipan) reminded members that they have agreed to help pass revenue-generating bills to help the Retirement Fund and other government programs and services.
After the Senate went into short recess, the motion to refer the bill to committee was withdrawn.
Video lottery terminals will be allowed in hotels with at least “100 rooms” or “at any departure area that is accessible to departing passengers only.”
Meanwhile, a conference committee has been formed to hash out differences between the House and Senate versions of an electronic gaming bill. But some senators said that bill may be vetoed anyway by the governor, who seems to favor video lottery over electronic gaming.