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Friday, April 18, 2014

2 bills seeks to amend e-gaming law over $2.5K fee

Rep. Tony Sablan (Ind-Saipan) and Senate floor leader Ray Yumul (Ind-Saipan) prefiled two separate bills amending the newly signed electronic gaming law over the $2,500 license fee per machine at hotels on Saipan. Sablan said he will formally introduce his House Bill 18-158 in today’s session, while Yumul said he will either withdraw or introduce a revised bill on Friday.

This comes at a time when hotels such as Mariana Resort are already preparing their facility for the operation of electronic gaming machines.

Sablan prefiled yesterday his HB 18-158, excluding poker machines from the $2,500 license fee imposed under Public Law 18-30 or the electronic gaming law.

Moreover, HB 18-158 is the “correct” version of HB 18-57 that Sablan prefiled on Tuesday.

The previous bill inadvertently changed the “15 percent of net gaming proceeds” under the law to only “10 percent.”

Sablan said it was not his intention to reduce the net gaming proceeds, so he prefiled HB 18-158 a day later with the 15 percent net gaming proceeds intact.

“…the intent of this Act is to amend Public Law 18-30 by excluding poker machines from the [$2,500] fee under Public Law No. 18-30 so that fees collected solely on poker machines are not hampered. Furthermore, the intent of this Act is to clarify that the intent of House Bill 18-51, HD4, SS1, CCD1 was not to decrease the existing fees for poker machines within the [CNMI] but rather to allow electronic gaming in qualified establishments within the Commonwealth,” the bill says.

Gov. Eloy S. Inos signed on Dec. 13 PL 18-30 or the Tourism Entertainment and Destination Enhancement Act of 2013, requiring a $2,500 license fee per electronic gaming machine or 15 percent of net gaming proceeds, “whichever is greater.”

Press secretary Angel Demapan said yesterday that the administration has not received copies of the amendment bills.

“In his approval message, Governor Inos sought the assistance of the House Ways and Means Committee to exclude poker machines from the $2,500 license fee as it should remain equal to the higher license fee for poker machines not in hotels,” Demapan added.

Yumul, meanwhile, said at the time of his prefiling of SB 18-43, he wasn’t aware that Sablan had also prefiled an amendment bill.

He said yesterday that he has two options: Either to withdraw the bill from introduction during Friday’s Senate session on Rota, or revise the bill to also incorporate other senators’ concerns.

Yumul’s bill excludes poker machines from the list of electronic gaming machines in hotels subject to a reduced license fee of $2,500 under PL 18-30.

He said PL 18-30 inadvertently included poker machines on the list of electronic gaming at hotels that are subject to a $2,500 license fee per machine.

Yumul said his bill intends to maintain the license fee for existing poker machines on Saipan.

But he said concerns or worries about investors relocating existing poker machines to hotels could also be moot because PL 18-30 requires that all electronic table games must comply with the latest international technical standards set by Global Gaming Laboratories International LLC or SIQ Gaming Laboratories.

PL 18-30 amends the definition of gambling device “to exclude electronic gaming.”

As a revenue-generating law, it aims to assist the CNMI in meeting its obligations to the Settlement Fund and the NMI Retirement Fund.

The new law allows electronic gaming machines only in hotels with at least 100 rooms or, if they have fewer than 100 rooms, should be attached to a golf course.

Under the bill, 60 percent of the fees collected each year will be used to restore the 25-percent cut in retirees’ pension; 15 percent to pay the interest owed to defined benefit plan members who ended their membership; 15 percent to the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation for the senatorial district’s programs; 5 percent for Rota; and 5 percent for Tinian.

Casino gambling is legal only on Tinian and Rota. Saipan voters rejected the proposal twice, and a House casino bill was rejected thrice by the Senate in one form or another.

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