Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider (R-Tinian) said the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation has no authority to pass a House local bill that proposes to authorize, establish, and regulate casino gambling within the Third Senatorial District, the political name of Saipan and the Northern Islands.
Hofschneider, in a letter Friday to SNILD chair Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan), said that House Local Bill 22-26 is not legally sufficient and therefore the SNILD does not have the authority to pass it.
The Senate president said SNILD cannot enact a local bill that supersedes or contradicts the authority of the Commonwealth Casino Commission, as established by Public Law 18-56.
He said moreover, SNILD cannot enact a local bill that increases the number of casino licenses in the Third Senatorial District when P.L. 18-56 established only one exclusive license.
Hofschneider pointed out that HLB 22-26 provisions are contrary to P.L. 18-56.
Citing the need to secure a source of funding for the 25% portion of the retirees’ pensions and anticipating the revocation of the exclusive Saipan casino license of the struggling Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, House floor leader Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan) introduced HLB 22-26 last Oct. 29, proposing to increase the number of casino licenses on Saipan from one to five.
The legislation has been referred to a SNILD Committee because it has not met the required appearances on the House agenda.
Yumul stated in the bill that SNILD has the authority to enact a casino law through a local bill pursuant to P.L. 18-56.
Yumul cited a Commonwealth Code pertaining to exclusion from gambling prohibition which provides that “casino gaming and wagering is authorized in the Commonwealth provided that such gaming and wagering occurs in the casino facilities of the casino operator licensed pursuant to this chapter or in a casino licensed pursuant to the laws of a Senatorial District.”
Hofschneider said the assertion is that P.L. 18-56 authorized casino gaming in the CNMI so the SNILD can enact its own local bill to establish a casino act. There are two problems, though, with this reliance on P.L.18-56 justification, Hofschneider said.
First, he said, neither P.L. 18-56 nor the Commonwealth Code pertaining to exclusion from gambling prohibition intended or expressly authorized any of the senatorial districts to establish its own casino law.
At that time, the president said, the First (Rota) and Second (Tinian ang Aguiguan) senatorial districts previously established their own casino acts through local initiatives that were authorized by the NMI Constitution.
He said the only senatorial district that did not have a casino act was the Third Senatorial District.
Hofschneider said P.L. 18-56 was the vehicle that established a casino law in the Commonwealth but excluded regulation of the First and Second Senatorial District casinos.
He said P.L. 18-56 does not expressly state that the Third Senatorial District or any other district may establish its own casino law.
He said P.L. 18-56 simply intended to ratify the casino gaming already authorized in the First and Second Senatorial Districts and at the same time authorize an exclusive license casino in the Third Senatorial District to be regulated by P.L. 18-56.
Second, Hofschneider said, a casino licensed pursuant to the laws of a senatorial district can only be established by a law enacted through a local initiative pursuant to the NMI Constitution, which provides that “gambling is prohibited in the NMI except as provided by Commonwealth law or established through initiative in the Commonwealth or in any senatorial district.
He said the First and Second senatorial districts successfully established their local casinos through local initiative.
He said the CNMI Supreme Court has already made it clear that SNILD does not have the authority to establish a local casino through the enactment of a local bill. He said HLB 22-26 is a local bill intended to be enacted by SNILD as opposed to a local initiative enacted by the people of the Third Senatorial District.
Hofschneider said P.L. 18-56 did not expressly authorize local delegations to establish local casinos through local bills.
He said the only local law authorized to establish local casinos is a local initiative pursuant to the NMI Constitution Article 21.
The senator said the only other way to establish a casino in a senatorial district is through the enactment of a Commonwealth law. Here, he said, P.L. 18-56 was enacted to establish a casino in the Commonwealth but specifically the Third Senatorial District because the First and Second senatorial districts already had local casinos established by local initiatives.
Hofschneider said P.L. 18-56 excludes enforcement of the casino initiatives of the First and Second senatorial districts, which is evidence that P.L. 18-56 was intended to only regulate casinos in the Third Senatorial District.