‘Manila trip was no junket’
Yumul takes full responsibility for Manila casino trip
The Manila trip of some lawmakers to last week’s ASEAN Gaming Summit should not be mistaken as a junket as they were able to speak with industry leaders who are familiar with the gaming industry here in the CNMI and gleaned some information, including that Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC’ is blacklisted in international gaming.
That’s according to House vice speaker Rep. Joel Camacho (Ind-Saipan), who attended the summit in his capacity as a member of the House of Representatives Committee on Gaming.
In a news briefing yesterday to report on the summit, committee chair Rep. Ralph N. Yumul (Ind-Saipan) also said he takes full responsibility for bringing himself and most committee members with him to the Manila gaming summit, which he described as an effort to become more familiar with the issues related to gaming in the region and specific solutions to local situation.
Seven lawmakers attended the three-day summit held at the Manila Marriot Hotel from March 21 to 23. They are Yumul, Camacho, Rep. Marissa Renee Flores (Ind-Saipan), Rep. Angelo Camacho (Ind-Saipan), Sen. Paul A. Manglona (Ind-Rota), Sen. Corina L. Magofna (Ind-Saipan), and Rep. John Paul P. Sablan (Ind-Saipan).
Separately, Reps. Blas Jonathan T. Attao (Ind-Saipan), Roman Benavente (Ind-Saipan), and Edwin K. Propst (D-Saipan) said they did not join the summit for personal matters, but support their colleagues who participated in the gaming conference.
Yumul said that, being also the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, he and the members all understand the need to be cautious and not waste resources.
“We, as elected officials cannot stand by and hope and pray and expect solutions to come to us,” Yumul said.
He said as House members, they are constantly criticized for inaction and that they all know the situation that they are in, and it will not get any better unless they take action and do something about it. “We need to come up with solutions to our problems,” Yumul said.
He pointed out that in terms of rebuilding the CNMI economy, they need to be proactive. Yumul said they can’t sit and do nothing and instead always look for ways to jumpstart CNMI’s gaming industry, tourism, and economy. He said they are looking for revenue generating ideas and can’t afford to wait.
Yumul disclosed that it was not the first summit that he’d attended as chairman of House Gaming Committee as he also participated one in the 21st Legislature in Manila when the Saipan casino was still in operation.
He said last week’s summit was different in that they got many answers about Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC, online gambling, junkets, and current trends gaming in Asia.
Depending how the community feels about the gaming industry and the directions the CNMI is heading, they may need to amend the Saipan casino law (Public Law 18-56), he added. Yumul said this will not happen overnight as he stressed the need for community involvement.
He said they decided to join the Manila summit way ahead or before Gov. Arnold I. Palacios issued a directive to implement austerity measures for some employees under the Executive Branch.
He said their hotel room was not a luxury one and that the conference fee of $2,500 for each participant was waived for the CNMI. Yumul said they explained to the summit organizer in January about the situation of the CNMI so the conference fee was waived.
“We all used office funds,” he said.
Yumul said he believes the Commonwealth Casino Commission commissioners were notified about the summit, but he does not know why no commissioner participated.
House vice speaker Joel Camacho underscored the importance of this trip as they learned so much.
“We had the opportunity to meet with industry leaders on gaming and get a better understanding of how gaming works, what can work for our region,” Camacho said.
He said they learned about a joint partnership or type of regulator and an operator type of casino in the Philippines that actually works on the local scale. Camacho said maybe it’s more feasible for the CNMI to open three small-sized casinos.
The vice speaker said the Manila trip was an international conference where many stakeholders attended, and it was a great deal for industry service leaders, former legislators, and people that are experts in the industry, and where they learned some other interesting facts, including reports that IPI is blacklisted in international gaming.
To get better insights on how things work for the CNMI moving forward, they have to understand that a lot of programs in the Commonwealth are tied into gaming at this moment, Camacho said.
“Our economy is dependent on that. It is important for us, even myself, as an officer of the Legislature to go, to get a better view on how we shape policies moving forward and how we can better help our people and help our programs like [Commonwealth Healthcare Corp.], public safety,” he said.
Camacho stressed the importance of being aggressively proactive in the effort to revive the CNMI’s economy.
Flores said the current situation with the CNMI’s gaming industry is a testament to how bad it is right now and there is no denying that. She believes that IPI is a terrible company and the Commonwealth Casino Commission has horrible leadership.
“I am not being personal, but the leadership of the commission did not regulate well or adequately understand the consequences of implementing substandard regulations,” she said.
To progress from this point, every leader needs to be informed, she added.
The lawmaker said they cannot all be experts, but they can do due diligence to understand the experts’ advice and ask questions. “We can hold conversations on relevant issues if we are not on the same page,” she said. “So from this standpoint, if the trip was worth it, absolutely!”
Sablan said that, as a member of the Gaming Committee and chairman of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, he took it upon himself to “learn more and find ways to resolve and revise the gaming industry that we have here in the 3rd Senatorial District.”
He pointed out that the Palacios-Apatang administration wants to pivot the CNMI away from its reliance on the Chinese tourism market, and what they learned on this summit is that the Chinese market is a big market for gaming.
Attao said that, although he did not join the summit as he had a personal obligation to attend to, he believes that Yumul and the committee members gained knowledge from that conference that they can present to people.
“We can revisit specific legislations that have been produced so we can move forward,” Attao said.
Propst, who also did not join the trip, said he looks forward to knowing what Yumul and his colleagues learned at the summit, particularly because of the difficulty they had in the Legislature in trying to obtain access to information from the CCC In fact, he said, the previous 22nd House of Representatives was considering an oversight hearing on the casino. Propst said the CCC had to decline that, because of the ongoing litigation between CCC and IPI.
“We cannot get answers because they always [cite] the litigation,” he said.
Propst said there are concerns about the cost of the Manila trip, but the cost of that trip is far less than a first-class trip of a former governor and the former first lady on a roundtrip to Honolulu. The lawmaker was obviously alluding to former governor Ralph DLG Torres and his wife, Diann Torres.
Propst said his colleagues spent their own office budget for that summit.
He said the fact that IPI is blacklisted was surprising and that they did not hear that information from the CCC.