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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Light at the end of tunnel for electronic gaming bill

Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said yesterday that the Senate will take up at its next session a conference committee version of an electronic gaming bill “in the spirit of moving forward,” despite his objection to the $2,500 license fee for each machine that he considers “too low.”

Senate action on the electronic gaming bill committee report has been stalled over Torres’ concerns about the license fee, which he said is much lower than the $12,500 imposed on each poker machine on Saipan.

A leadership meeting yesterday afternoon between the administration and the Legislature led to an understanding for the need to move forward with the revenue-generating bill.

“It looks like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Gov. Eloy S. Inos said of the electronic gaming bill’s status.

There are enough votes to adopt the committee report that the House adopted weeks back. Senate adoption of the committee report essentially means passage of the bill and sending it to the governor for action.

Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan), author of the electronic gaming bill and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said the joint House-Senate conference committee reached a compromise on the fees.

“We agreed on the $2,500 license fee per machine [as opposed to $10,000 or $12,500], hoping that with that amount, investors will more likely bring in more machines. The more machines available to players, I believe, the more gaming revenues will be generated and that’s where we’re leaning—the bulk of the revenues would come from gaming proceeds and not the license fee,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.

The committee report recommends that businesses engaged in electronic gaming be made ineligible for a qualifying certificate, a tax break program.

It also only allows electronic gaming operations at hotels or resorts with at least 100 rooms or those attached to a golf course if they have less than 100 rooms. These are only allowed on Saipan.

This comes days after the Senate essentially killed anew a House bill legalizing casino operations on Saipan.

But at yesterday’s leadership meeting, the governor said there was still a mention of the Saipan casino bill.

He said another revenue-generating bill is now on his desk, the tax amnesty bill, which he said will help provide some cash flow “but it’s not something that will give a big shot in the arm in terms of revenue needs.”

Also pending is an Internet gaming bill. Meanwhile, a request for proposals for video lottery operations has yet to be issued.

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