Senate President Ralph Torres (R-Saipan) said a House bill legalizing casino gaming on Saipan that the Senate “filed” or shelved in November may be resurrected, adding that major revenue-generating bills need to move so that retirees’ deferred 25-percent pension cut will be restored, among other things.
Torres, one of the seven senators that voted to file the Saipan casino bill last year, said the bill is “not dead” and is “still the property of the Senate.”
The Senate president said upon consultation with counsel, the bill could still be resurrected and acted on by senators if they so choose.
“I want to look into every and all revenue-generating bills and possibilities to restore the 25 percent for retirement,” Torres told Saipan Tribune.
When asked whether the bills include those that are still at the Senate such as the Saipan casino bill, Torres said “yes.”
On Nov. 26, during a session on Rota, the Senate voted to “file” House Bill 18-45, House Draft 7. It was filed by a vote of 7-1. Only Sen. Pete Reyes (Ind-Saipan) voted against filing or shelving the bill and at the time, Reyes said “by them voting to file it, the bill is dead and it will not be entertained again.”
Torres’ consideration of entertaining the bill once again is precipitated by the government’s mounting obligations, not only the restoration of the 25 percent pension cut but also the annual minimum payment to the retirement settlement fund, payment of interest on some retirement contributions, and an increase in government health insurance premium, among other things.
His apparent reconsideration of the Saipan casino bill comes months after he declared to be Gov. Eloy S. Inos’ running mate in the November race. Torres is running as Inos’ lieutenant governor under the Republican Party.
Inos has been supportive of casino gambling on Saipan and any other major revenue-generating bills. He has been calling the Legislature to send him bills that would generate “new” revenues, saying that “cutting” expenses alone won’t be enough to meet the government’s obligations.
Casino gambling is legal only on Tinian and Rota. Saipan voters rejected twice an initiative to legalize casino gambling on Saipan.
The Senate also voted twice before to reject a Saipan casino bill. Last year’s vote to “file” another Saipan casino bill was the latest in a series of votes to not pass it, at least at the time.
House floor leader Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan), author of HB 18-45 or the Saipan casino bill, said yesterday he has been hoping that the Senate would “reconsider” their position on the casino bill.
“If the Senate sees the need to improve the bill, then they could go ahead and amend the bill. All I ask is that the improvement would ensure repayment of retirees’ 25 percent pension cut and other obligations by the government,” Demapan said in an interview after the House session at past 5pm yesterday.
Demapan also made it clear that now that the Legislature already passed the video lottery and electronic gaming bills that are now laws, he is “now more inclined to support just one casino license for Saipan.”
The House floor leader, however, said the holder of the Saipan casino license should develop a casino “from the ground up.”
“Yes, this means the license holder should come in and build a new hotel for the casino, build it from the ground to the roof, instead of using an existing hotel. If we have a new hotel and casino, then it would create new and additional jobs,” Demapan added.
Legalizing casino operations on Saipan has been a divisive issue on the island. Its opponents have been citing casino gaming’s social ills, among other things, and have been pushing for other revenue-generating ideas. They said Saipan already has poker machines and soon, video lottery terminals and electronic gaming.
Lawmakers supporting casino gambling on Saipan said this is the only industry that could immediately pump millions into the government coffers just on application fee and license alone. They added that there has never been alternatives proposed that could generate millions in a short period of time to help retirees and provide more funds for public health, public safety and education.
Right now, the only casino operating in the CNMI is Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino.