SAYING THEY HAVE $150M FUNDING COMMITMENT
IPI seeks strong partnership with NMI govt, not threat
Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC officials disclosed yesterday that they have a $150-million funding commitment and what they need is a strong partnership with the CNMI government, not a threat to revoke its exclusive casino license.
At a meeting with members of the House of Representatives Gaming Committee chaired by Rep. Ralph Yumul (R-Saipan), IPI chief executive officer Donald R. Browne said they have financial troubles but are still committed to the CNMI.
“It’s not the time to threaten to revoke somebody’s license in the middle of a pandemic,” he added.
Browne said they had dialogue with everybody, including members of the House, that they thought was productive, only then to receive a complaint for revocation of their casino license.
Commonwealth Casino Commission acting executive director Andrew Yeom recently filed a complaint against IPI over its failure to pay $15.5 million in annual casino license fee that was due last Aug. 12.
Browne said this forced their hand to write a stronger statement in their letter to Gov. Ralph DLG Torres that was also addressed to other government officials. “And all those statements in that letter are factual. Anybody can look into the law itself,” he said.
Browne said IPI wants to be a part of this community. “But this is headed down a path I think nobody wants to take because…there’s motions and threat…of lawsuits. We don’t want to do this. …We don’t want the public to see all that craziness is going on,” the CEO said.
Browne said they need to point out that IPI never had this exclusivity because gaming still exists outside the casino. “But we need to point out if there is a person here who says that gaming does not exist outside of the casino, and I think they’ve never walked down the streets on Saipan. They never walked into a poker room or any gaming place,” he said.
Browne said by statute, by law, by the U.S. Department of Justice rules, all those devices in poker arcades are gaming devices. “We can’t say they’re not. So that’s our position. To say why, why now? When you’re ready to be pushed off a cliff, you have to do something about it. You just can’t sit there,” he said.
Browne pointed out that, according to the World Bank, because of this COVID-19 pandemic, this is the worst economic downturn 150 years.
In response to Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero’s questions, Browne said IPI’s reopening plan is contingent on keeping the casino license that the company valued dearly and pay a substantial amount for.
IPI senior vice president of Public Affairs Tao Xing said they’re facing some obligations and potential obligations on legal matters.
However, Xing said, they do have a funding commitment letter. “So it stated that they will, they’re willing to fund us $150 million,” Xing said.
He said they believe they can still go forward. “We’re viable as a company,” he added.
Xing said if the government shows strong support to them, it gives a lot of confidence to investors.
Xing said they’re still trying to figure out what would be the best time for the casino to reopen.
“Right now, we’re under the requirement of the government to close the casino,” he said.
Rep. Janet U. Maratita (R-Saipan) said that Browne’s Aug. 26 letter was disappointing and uncalled for as it accuses the government of breaching the agreement.
“We don’t need to confuse people,” said Maratita as she emphasized that, although she used to be a strong opponent of the casino, she sees its benefit to the economy and wants the industry to succeed.
Rep. Joseph Lee Pan Guerrero (R-Saipan) invited Browne and Xing to share their plans with the committee. “I have no intention of chasing out IPI. Just that we’re in pandemic,” Guerrero said.
In his Aug. 26 letter, Browne requested the CNMI government that the $15.5 million in annual casino license fee that it failed to pay on the due date last Aug. 12 for Year 6 of the casino license agreement be postponed and be paid on the 15th year of the license or in 2029.
Citing that IPI may be required to remain closed for the majority of this year due to the government mandated shutdown, IPI Browne also told Torres that they are also requesting a reduction of the Commonwealth Casino Commission’s $3 million regulatory fee to $1 million as the cessation of gaming requires less oversight.
Browne also stated that by allowing poker machines and e-gaming to operate outside of the casino, the CNMI is in violation of the exclusive license IPI holds.