A local bill that seeks to amend the poker laws to allow “adult gaming machines” to operate wherever gaming machines are allowed was delayed after several lawmakers declined to vote on the bill without first further reviewing it at the committee level.
Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegate chair Rep. John Paul P. Sablan’s (R-Saipan) House Local Bill 20-47, which seeks to amend the Saipan Zoning Law of 2013 to allow adult gambling machine businesses to operate in “any zoning district where an adult gambling machine business is permitted” and is more than 200 feet from a church, public or private school, park, or playground.
Introduced in yesterday’s SNILD session, chair Sablan also moved to allow the bill to be placed on the bill calendar for the session, however several lawmakers opposed the bill.
One of those who opposed acting on H.L.B. 20-47 was Senate President Arnold I. Palacios (R-Saipan), who pointed out that Zoning administrator Therese Ogumoro requested that the delegation oppose the bill, said that he had a “problem with voting on a bill without a committee report.”
Rep. Edwin K. Propst (Ind-Saipan) said that the delegation should not “rush into [acting on] it too quickly,” and requested that a public hearing be conducted on the bill.
Ultimately, the delegation voted 8-11 and opposed moving the bill to the bill calendar for the day.
Reps. Joseph “Lee Pan” Guerrero (R-Saipan), Alice Igitol (R-Saipan), Gregorio Sablan Jr. (R-Saipan), Francisco Aguon (R-Saipan), Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan), chair Sablan, House Speaker Rafael Demapan (R-Saipan), and vice speaker Janice Maratita (R-Saipan) voted for placing the bill on the calendar.
Reps. Blas Jonathan Attao (Ind-Saipan), Donald Barcinas (R-Saipan), Jose Itibus (R-Saipan), Vinson Sablan (Ind-Saipan), Ivan A. Blanco (R-Saipan), Francisco Dela Cruz (R-Saipan), Angel Demapan (R-Saipan), Sen. Sixto Igisomar, minority leader Rep. Edmund Villagomez (Ind-Saipan), Propst, and Palacios voted against the motion.
Speaker Demapan told the delegation members after the motion was defeated that placing it on the bill calendar does not necessarily mean that the bill would be passed.
In an interview, author and chair Sablan said that the intention of the bill was to create “a fair playing field” for poker parlors in a somewhat literal sense.
“In my bill [H.L.B. 20-47], it’s whether you are mixed commercial area or not,” said chair Sablan, referring to the current setup of having poker parlors operate on certain mixed commercial zones along a stretch of road while other poker establishments also on mixed commercial areas but on different roads are not allowed.
He added that poker parlors have been reportedly filing lawsuits against Zoning because of this.
“Striking out [the street name] and just [being] mixed commercial, you are allowed [to operate a poker parlor establishment],” delegation chair Sablan said, was the intent of the bill.
Comments of zoning administrator Ogumoro clearly stated that the zoning board was against the bill.
“While this bill intends to bring ‘consistency’ in poker operations in one district, Zoning believes this bill will allow poker [parlors] to operate in all areas zoned as mixed commercial throughout the island,” she said, adding that it would “undoubtedly create the uncertainty of the protection of compatible uses from those which are incompatible.”
Citing Saipan Local Law 18-5, which regulates adult gambling machine businesses to promote the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the Commonwealth citizens and to establish reasonable and uniform regulations to “prevent the deleterious location and concentration of adult businesses and, in particular, to separate adult businesses from family-oriented uses.”
“S.L.L. 18-5 was enacted to ensure that adult gambling machines are centralized within certain geographical areas,” added Ogumoro.
Ogumoro reminded the delegation that mixed commercial zones are situated all around the island.
“Allowing poker establishments to operate in some mixed commercial districts while not allowing them in other mixed commercial districts should not be interpreted as ‘inconsistent’ nor ‘misleading,’” she said.
According to Ogumoro, the zoning of permitted locations for poker parlors was never intended to designate a particular zoning district for poker establishments but rather to designate areas for poker parlor operations.
“Both S.L.L. 18-5 and 19-4 were carefully crafted to ensure that poker parlors remain within designated zones within commercialized areas which are visible and can be easily accessed, monitored, and controlled for public safety and welfare purposes,” she said.
Chair Sablan said H.L.B. 20-47 would most probably be referred to a committee of the delegation for further review.