Best Sunshine Live gets 16-month reprieve

IPI also receives extension on Imperial Pacific Resort construction
Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC senior vice president for special projects Viola Alepuyo, center, addresses the Commonwealth Lottery Commission, chaired by Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman, in yesterday’s meeting at the Governor’s Office conference room. (Jon Perez)

Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC senior vice president for special projects Viola Alepuyo, center, addresses the Commonwealth Lottery Commission, chaired by Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman, in yesterday’s meeting at the Governor’s Office conference room. (Jon Perez)

The Commonwealth Lottery Commission took into consideration the factors that Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC enumerated when they made a request to amend the casino license agreement in order to extend the implementation schedule deadlines.

The commission approved IPI’s requests of extending the temporary casino, Best Sunshine Live, and completing the construction of the initial gaming facility, while suspending the schedule of deadlines of their Phase I and II developments in Marpi.

The commission, headed by Department of Commerce Secretary Mark O. Rabauliman, met yesterday at a packed Governor’s Office conference room at the Hon. Juan Atalig Sablan Memorial Building in Capital Hill.

Members of the House of Representatives, IPI officials and their employees, and others from the community attended the meeting. The room was so packed that some IPI workers were forced to stay either outside the conference room or outside the building.

Extended where the deadlines of operations of the temporary casino—the Best Sunshine Live facility at T Galleria—and the construction and initial operations of the initial gaming facility, the Imperial Pacific Resort under construction in Garapan.

Best Sunshine Live’s operation at T Galleria was about to end on April 30 and IPI is seeking to extend it to Oct. 31 of this year, while also extended was the Aug. 11 deadline of the IGF’s construction, which they are hoping to be moved to Feb. 11, 2018.

The commission granted a 16-month extension for both requests where IPI is expected to complete the project on August 2018—which the commission streamlined and made the deadline uniform.

Commissioner Larrisa Larson, who is also the CNMI Department of Finance Secretary, said they made the deadline the same rather than having it separate. “I think granting the one-year extension should be considered in light of the issues brought to our attention.”

Rabauliman said they weighed the pros and cons of the requests before they made the decision. “We’ve moved forward with the extension based on a the public comments, made, those who are in support, and the concerns raised in the meeting.”

“The thought process here is, there are a lot of livelihood that’s tied into it. We’ve come this far on the progress IPI had made, just to immediately yank it without further thoughts put forth, to me seems irresponsible.”

He added that the commission just wanted to give IPI time to finish what was agreed on in the license agreement, and considered the reasons they mentioned and approve the extension.

Rabauliman said his position and the decision they made would not escape the eyes of critics. “It comes with the territory. You know I wear different hats. I’m not only the commission chair but also the [DoC] secretary due to the economic side of things, a community member, and a father.”

“So, you do realize the challenges that we face. Not only for the huge investment, but also people at large. I wish it was a perfect world. I say that all the stakeholders revisit the challenges we face and face it together to find a resolution that benefits not only the investor but also the community.”

Flexible terms

IPI senior vice president for special projects Viola Alepuyo said they welcome the extension especially the Commission’s decision to move the April 30 deadline of the Live Training Facility at T Galleria Saipan and having it on only one date—August 2018.

IPI chair Mark A. Brown, in a letter to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres on Feb. 22, listed nine reasons that were beyond their control as the basis for their request of extension.

“It gives us the flexibility. To us deadlines are important and we need to make sure we follow the procedure. We don’t want to wait on the night of [April 30]. Do it right and we don’t want to do it again that’s why we pushed for the extension” said Alepuyo.

She added that IPI would move forward with its plans and would work out a new agreement with T Galleria because of the extension.

Alepuyo said their request was only for six months, which they think would be enough time for them to finish the casino based on their own assessment. “However, we respectfully request that there won’t be any language there that would prohibit us to open in the event that we are done earlier.”

The commission welcomed IPI’s suggestion. “If they completed the project, it does not step them to shut down the live training and transfer to initial gaming facility,” said Rabauliman.

Alepuyo said amendments could be made to extend the deadlines. “A deadline is just a deadline but it does not necessary mean you live and die with that deadline. There are ways to extend deadlines if we have to. The most important thing is you comply with the laws and regulations.”

She asked everyone to be respectful of one another despite being at opposing sides. “It does not matter what you do, people are going to agree or disagree. Let’s just respect each other and each person’s views. We can’t get everybody to agree on everything, but just be respectful.”

Minority’s concerns

Minority members said they do not oppose the casino project, but would want IPI to address all the concerns that came up, especially with the construction of the multi-million dollar Imperial Pacific Resort.

Minority leader Rep. Edmund S. Villagomez (Ind-Saipan) said that one of the concerns that came up when they were still discussing Public Law 18-56 was whether Saipan has the infrastructure for the development.

“We were trying to be real with it. Are we going to have the infrastructure and the agencies ready to support the upcoming industry? All environmental problems were also mentioned and other stuff.”

“Extension is a good thing. We saw the numbers that came to the Governor’s Office. All [IPI] is looking for is support for the extension. A lot of us know somebody who is employed at IPI. They have done good stuff but we could not ignore the bad stuff.”

Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) added that they are hoping the commission would renegotiate the terms of the lease agreement. “If you want to grant the extension we should also look at taxing the casino. Levying a tax that would help [the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.], medical referral, and our people.”

“I do not oppose the casino and the extension, and is also supportive of them. There were natural causes and the ongoing labor investigation, but there should be new terms. Let us [implement a] tax that would benefit the people.”

Rep. Vinnie F. Sablan (Ind-Saipan) said the government should look into the issues and concerns of the ongoing casino project. “I do not oppose them. It is no secret that IPI and its employees have done great things.”

“There’s economic boom and a lot of jobs were created for our people. But we could not turn a blind eye and pretend that there is nothing negative that is happening. There are illegal workers, orders on environment, and the living conditions. This can’t be ignored.”

Sablan said Typhoon Soudelor and challenges on shipping materials because of the CNMI’s geographical location are some of the factors for the request, but the issue on illegal workers was never mentioned.

“There are things that are happening that we should be concerned. Let’s look at both the positive and negative. We need to make sure we take control, it is beneficial to us, and we know what is happening.”

Jon Perez | Reporter
Jon Perez began his writing career as a sports reporter in the Philippines where he has covered local and international events. He became a news writer when he joined media network ABS-CBN. He joined the weekly DAWN, University of the East’s student newspaper, while in college.

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