‘AG’s opinion is that Commonwealth Lottery Commission has the authority to review IPI request’
Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC has resubmitted its request to the Commonwealth Lottery Commission for a five-year extension on the deadline to finish building its Imperial Pacific Resort project in Garapan.
Tao Xing, IPI senior vice president of Marketing and Public Affairs, disclosed at the Commonwealth Casino Commission board’s meeting last Thursday that they are still waiting for a response from the Commonwealth Lottery Commission about this extension request.
Amendment 6 of the Casino License Agreement had set Feb. 28, 2021, as the deadline for IPI to complete building the casino/resort project. IPI failed to meet that deadline.
IPI chief executive officer Ray N. Yumul informed the Legislature last February that IPI will not be able to meet the Feb. 28, 2021, deadline and requests that an extension of five years (Feb. 28, 2026) be granted to complete the construction of the initial gaming facility.
Xing told the CCC board Thursday that they submitted last Jan. 26 a request to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres to grant them the five-year extension to finish the project. Xing said Torres then asked Attorney General Edward Manibusan to issue an opinion on which governing body should review the request. He said Manibusan issued an opinion last June 25 stating that CLC is still the governing body that has jurisdiction over IPI’s request. In light of this, Xing said they resubmitted their request to the CLC chairman last July 8.
“So right now, we’re waiting for their response,” Xing said.
CCC counsel Michael Ernest affirmed that he has seen a copy of the AG’s opinion and that he has a letter from Torres to IPI that gives reference to it but he does no feel comfortable discussing it beyond what he already has.
“I don’t think we generally release the opinions without the permission of the client. In this case, the client would be the Office of the Governor,” he said.
Ernest said his understanding was that the AG felt that, while it was clear that the Legislature set going forward that CCC shall issue new casino licenses, it wasn’t made clear that the CCC was to have any authority to amend the current casino license.
“And that’s very broad strokes. And I don’t want to be pinned down on that,” he said.
Ernest said they need to talk to the Office of the Governor for formal release of the AG’s opinion.
He said his understanding was that the legislative scheme as presently exists by the enactment of Public Law 2021-38 did not conclusively state that CCC should have authority to oversee CLA amendments.
CCC chair Edward C. DeLeon Guerrero said the CLA specifies that the governor has the authority to deal with the terms and conditions of the casino license agreement. Since the members of CLC report directly to the governor, DeLeon Guerrero said it makes sense for Torres to utilize the existing law recognition mechanism in order for him to proceed forward in making any amendments, rather than his office alone acting on it.
Ernest said he believes the CLA explicitly states that the governor shall be the one to amend it. “It has always been our position and that’s why our advice has always been no matter who does the negotiating, that both the Lottery Commission and the governor sign it,” he said.
Ernest said his advice is still to have the governor sign the amendment as well.
DeLeon Guerrero said if IPI’s extension request will be on the agenda of the CLC’s next meeting, the CCC should sit in and hear out the request because this is a substantial amount of request.
DeLeon Guerrero asked Ernest if CLC grants IPI’s request will that have any material impact on CCC’s pending litigation in the consolidated cases against IPI.
Ernest said the question should be directed to the board’s counsel, John P. Lowrey. Generally, however, he said he can say that no one can answer at this time because no one knows what CLC is considering doing.
“All I can do is point out that in the last licensing agreement, the Lottery Commission regarding the community benefit fund payment, explicitly went out of its way to say that it wasn’t affecting the ongoing litigation before the CCC,” he said.
Ernest also added that there is no enforcement action right now against IPI regarding the completion date.