Ernest says community benefit fund does not go to CCC
$9,175,000 in fine, regulatory fee, and payment for a stipulated agreement.
That is the total amount Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC directly owes the Commonwealth Casino Commission, according to CCC legal counsel Michael Ernest.
That amount does not include the Community Benefit Fund nor the annual casino license fee, said Ernest, responding to a question Rep. Celina R. Babauta raised during the House Gaming Committee meeting last Thursday.
Ernest said IPI’s Community Benefit Fund money actually goes to various community entities—as required by law—and not to CCC. “That’s not something that the CCC would get or oversee,” he said.
Ernest said the $15.5 million annual license fee that IPI owes also does not go to CCC, but to the Commonwealth general fund.
“And that’s for you, honorable ladies and gentlemen, to divvy up as you see fit,” he told the Gaming Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan).
Ernest said the only money that’s directly owed to CCC right now that he is aware of is the $25,000 payment for stipulated agreement that was from 2019, the $3,150,000 regulatory fee required by law, and the $6 million fine that was imposed by CCC board’s order 2021-002.
Ernest said the $3 million regulatory fee and the $6 million penalty are subject to IPI’s appeal right now before the Superior Court.
He noted CCC executive director Andrew Yeom’s statement that he is interested in getting IPI to become compliant and not to punish it. “He wants them to get into compliance and open the casino. And so that’s been the genesis,” the CCC counsel said.
Ernest said the second point is that, right now, it’s just an administrative action against IPI and there’s no Superior Court judgment yet.
“But mostly we’re the government and we feel that money owed to the government generally have priority anyway. Anything that we would also take right now would also be taken from the security of public lands,” he said.
Ernest pointed out that the Department of Public Lands is the landowner for most of that IPI casino/resort building in Garapan.
“And as a result, they have the first lien on the real property. And I don’t believe the commission is willing to take money for itself that would ultimately end up going to the people, the true landowners, which is the people of the CNMI,” he said.