Rolling the dice on Saipan casinos

Posted on Dec 30 2011
By Haidee V. Eugenio

With the CNMI economy going from bad to worse, the majority bloc in the House of Representatives and at least one senator believe it’s about time to allow casino gaming on Saipan.

After the Senate killed a House casino bill introduced by Rep. Froilan Tenorio (Cov-Saipan) last year, the House worked on another casino bill early this year but later introduced a local bill instead to legalize casino gaming on Saipan.

Despite threats of a court challenge from the Senate and amid concerns over the unconstitutionality of introducing a local gambling bill, majority of the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation voted to pass Rep. Stanley Torres’ (Ind-Saipan) measure.

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial vetoed the bill, saying it is unconstitutional. Fitial, a delegate to the First Northern Marianas Constitutional Convention, said the local casino bill was “irregularly introduced and passed without authority and is invalid on this basis.”

One of the local bill’s supporters, Rep. Joseph Palacios (R-Saipan), challenged in court the governor’s veto of the bill. That court challenge is ongoing.

Meanwhile, two House members-Rep. Ralph Demapan (Cov-Saipan) and Torres-introduced yet another House bill legalizing casinos on Saipan. As expected, the gambling bill passed the House. The Senate Committee on Federal Relations and Independent Agencies is reviewing the bill.

Prior to the passage of the bill, the Senate partnered with the Current Issues class of Sam McPhetres at Northern Marianas College to conduct a survey among Saipan voters. Less than 7 percent of Saipan voters participated. Moreover, there was only a nine-vote difference in favor of those opposed to casinos on Saipan.

While the Senate used to be solid in opposing any legislation that allows casino gambling on Saipan, at least one senator had a change of heart-Senate floor leader Pete Reyes (R-Saipan). Reyes, just like the governor months back, called on senators to have an open mind about allowing casinos on Saipan.

Tinian and Rota voters allowed casino operations on their islands.

Disclaimer: Comments are moderated. They will not appear immediately or even on the same day. Comments should be related to the topic. Off-topic comments would be deleted. Profanities are not allowed. Comments that are potentially libelous, inflammatory, or slanderous would be deleted.