House OKs internet gaming legislation

Reps. Babauta, Maratita say bill will open can of worms

The House of the Representatives passed a bill yesterday that allows senatorial districts to establish and regulate internet gaming.

With an 11-8 vote, House Bill 21-31, House Draft 1 now goes to the Senate for action.

Those who voted “no” were Reps. Sheila Babauta (Ind-Saipan), Antonio SN. Borja (R-Tinian), Richard Lizama (Ind-Saipan), Donald M. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan), Edwin Propst (Ind-Saipan), Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), and Joseph A. Flores (Ind-Saipan).

Rep. Christina Sablan (Ind-Saipan) is currently off-island but voted against it the first time it came up last year.

“My position on internet gaming is clear: I am firmly opposed,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune yesterday through text messages.

Sablan said the CNMI simply does not have the capacity to regulate and manage internet gaming in the Commonwealth.

“Do we imagine that somehow internet gaming will be easier to control? …Families across our community have been torn apart by gambling addiction. Internet gaming promises to worsen that, because it would make access to gambling even easier, as easy as picking up a cell phone or tablet in the privacy of the home, without any interventions, nor any protections for minors. That’s what worries me,” Sablan said.

Babauta questioned how much the CNMI will make from this venture, considering that the people running internet gaming are not required to have a business license here, nor will they be required to use any of the banks here, or any banks in the U.S. for that matter.

Babauta said it is very important that this kind of enabling legislation “is responsible and it is complete.”

“Enforcement is hard to conduct here in the CNMI. Everyone has issues. Enabling legislation is important to be complete and responsible, requiring all the data and studies for us to make that kind of decision,” Babauta said.

She said this bill makes it appear that gambling is the only way leaders can make money here in the CNMI.

Babauta agreed with Maratita that “it is a can of worms.” “No studies conducted. Impact is unknown,” she said. “I will not support something that would encourage the kind of negative behavior and mental health crisis that we are already experiencing. I think we can do better. I know we are better. We are very unique. We are smart. We are creative. I think there are other better ideas.”

Maratita said she is mindful of the CNMI’s financial challenges but she is equally mindful of the health and welfare of the people.

“We hear it again, we might bring more poker. So we want it—poker, casino, internet gambling, and e-gaming. Everything. Are we [going to] get all these revenues through gambling and not be mindful of the social ills that it could be creating in our community, especially our kids, especially [in] this time of…financial challenges in our Commonwealth?” Maratita asked.

Maratita said she understands this is a revenue-generating bill, but it is just opening another can of worms.

Rep. Marco T. Peter (R-Saipan), who was among those who voted for the bill, said it’s the hub that they’re preparing for and not getting companies to come to the CNMI. Peter said this is going to prepare the CNMI because there’s interest in making the CNMI a hub.

“Why not take part in jumping on that opportunity to prepare the CNMI to be a hub for companies,” said Peter, adding that the CNMI can come up with very stringent rules.

House Gaming Committee chair Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (R-Saipan) said no one objected to the bill during committee hearings on Saipan and Rota. Yumul said other states such as Nevada, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, and others also allow internet gambling.

In its report on the bill, the House Gaming Committee found no risk with internet gambling if is it properly regulated and sets the foundation that allows for senatorial district to implement and enforce internet gaming within each district.

By allowing internet gaming, the committee said that the CNMI will provide tourists with another form of entertainment and interaction that will allow the Commonwealth to benefit.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at
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