Sen. Vinnie Vinson F. Sablan (R-Saipan), who chairs the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation, said that they can revisit if necessary and proper Saipan Local Law 22-6, which essentially doubles the license fees of e-gaming machines, but only after the Superior Court has rendered a decision on a lawsuit filed by the owners of e-gaming venues Club 88 and Saipan Vegas, or the lawsuit is withdrawn.
Unless and until the court says otherwise, SLL 22-6 is currently the law and until the court renders its decision on the matter or the injunction is withdrawn, negotiations cannot take place outside of this judicial process, Sablan said.
“Either we litigate or we legislate. We aren’t going to do both. The petitioners can’t have it both ways,” he said.
Mariana Entertainment LLC and MP Holdings LLC, owners of Club 88 in Garapan and Saipan Vegas in Chalan Laulau, respectively, has sued the Department of Finance to halt the implementation of SLL-22-6. The plaintiffs, through lawyer Michael Dotts, asked the court to declared SLL 22-6 void, unconstitutional, and invalid.
Associate Judge Kenneth L. Govendo, who is handling the lawsuit, has encouraged SNILD and the plaintiffs, to discuss the effects of the bill. The hearing will be this Thursday.
MP Holdings LLC vice president Bartley A. Jackson wrote Sablan last Aug. 18 to request on behalf of the owners and employees of Saipan Vegas and Club 88 to have SLL 22-6 amended. Jackson said Saipan Vegas and Club 88 are willing to pay an additional $500 license fee per machine for the use of the local delegation.
He said the new tax imposed by SLL 22-6 will force Saipan Vegas and Club 88 to permanently shut down and leave over a 100 people jobless and unable to care for their families.
Sablan said yesterday that any communications or negotiations should have taken place before an injunction was sought against the Department of Finance.
House Local Bill 22-8 was introduced and signed into law by Gov. Ralph DLG Torres last Aug. 2, making it SLL-22-6.
Sablan said the petitioners/plaintiffs of the injunction felt that the process by which SNILD passed HLB 22-8 was contrary to the law that states that the mayor shall have 30 days to comment on legislations. “This is clearly untrue,” said Sablan, pointing out that between the time the bill was introduced and the time they passed it, the mayor had more than 30 days to comment.
He said presently, because of the lawsuit, the Superior Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to the CNMI Constitution.
“The petitioners caused this. They filed their lawsuit before they asked to negotiate,” Sablan pointed out.
Accordingly, he said, out of respect for the process, they should let the court decide on the concerns of both parties, then they can move on.
Sablan said just as there is a judicial process to interpret the laws of the land, there is also a legislative process to introduce, amend, repeal and/or re-enact legislations in accordance with pertinent rule of the Legislature.
“We followed our rules and the law despite the allegations to the contrary,” he said.
SLL 22-6 imposed a $2,500 tax or 15% of net gaming proceeds, whichever is greater, on all electronic gaming devices on Saipan, including poker amusement machines within e-gaming facilities or hotels. This is on top of the $2,500 license fee these companies are already paying to the government for each machine.
Torres recently stated that he supports the request of the owners of Saipan Vegas and Club 88 to amend the newly enacted SLL 22-6. But rather than an outright repeal of the law, Torres suggested coming up with an amendable solution on fee structure, whether it’s a tiered fee structure, gaming tax, etc.
The governor said he hopes that SNILD will return and reassess how the government can keep the company or any other potential companies that will come in.