Group eyes 4,000 signatures to place casino question on ballot


Although only some 3,200 signatures are needed, a non-profit group hopes to get at least 4,000 signatures of Saipan’s almost 13,000 registered voters to place the Saipan casino question in the November ballot. The group’s proposed question is, “Should casino gaming be authorized in the Third Senatorial District (Saipan)?”
The Marianas Economic Research and Development Foundation, led by president and board chair Isidoro T. Cabrera, launched the signature drive yesterday.

Cabrera said they began distributing sets of the petitions to friends and family members. Within days, they will also set up booths at public events where people can go to sign the petition.

“If we get the question on the ballot and most voters approve it, we would have a casino that has the input of the members of the public. We want to invigorate the economy,” Cabrera told Saipan Tribune. He said if the question is rejected by voters, then the foundation will accept that result.

The MERDF seeks an integrated resort and tourism development that includes Saipan casinos, as well as agriculture, aquaculture, and pelagic fisheries.

The foundation is a local, non-profit organization whose board members are Saipan residents concerned with the lack of economic activities and opportunities, and are taking the initiative to reinvigorate Saipan’s economy “by putting forth the question to the people in the upcoming election in November through a popular initiative.”

Cabrera said they had been planning the signature drive for months, and were caught by surprise that the House casino bill would pass the Senate this time around. Just the same, he said the foundation wants to get input from the public on the Saipan casino legalization proposal.

“In order for this initiative to be placed on the ballot in November of 2014, MERDF is seeking the help of the Saipan community with this petition drive to garner 4,000 signatures of registered voters in the Third Senatorial District. Please help revive our economy by signing up below,” states the cover letter of the petition drive, a copy of which was obtained yesterday.

As of March 4, there are 12,861 registered voters on Saipan. The Commonwealth Election Commission said at least 25 percent or 3,251 of these registered voters’ signatures are needed to be able to place the casino question on the ballot.

Saipan voters had already rejected twice legalizing casino gaming on Saipan; the last one was in 2007.

Lawmakers who support casino gaming said “times have changed” since the last vote.

Right now, the government has to find ways to restore the 25-percent cut in retirees’ pension, pay some retirement contribution interest withdrawals, address the higher health insurance premiums, and ensure annual payment to the retirement settlement trust fund, on top of public services that need to be funded regularly.

Haidee V. Eugenio | Reporter
Haidee V. Eugenio has covered politics, immigration, business and a host of other news beats as a longtime journalist in the CNMI, and is a recipient of professional awards and commendations, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental achievement award for her environmental reporting. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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