Rep. Francis S. Taimanao (Ind-Saipan) said the revenue collected from poker gaming and license fees have been an important source of funds to the CNMI and that’s why he joins the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance board’s concern if ever owners decide to close their operations.
SHEFA funds, which help hundreds of Saipan high school graduates with their college education, come from poker fees collected annually. SHEFA chair Oscar M. Babauta said they need the help of the Legislature in finding other fund sources if poker game rooms close shop.
And this was the reason why Taimanao, the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation’s Education Committee vice chair, introduced House Local Bill 19-66 that aims to amend a provision on Saipan Local Law 18-05.
SLL 18-05 mandates the poker industry to move to the Adult Gaming Zone’s geographical location in October next year, but Taimanao wants to prolong the move in the next three to four years to lessen the impact.
“I’m kind of kind of concern on the impact that it would give to the program and its recipients. If the poker game rooms close, because owners could not afford the relocation and other additional costs, where does that leave us and what will happen to SHEFA,” Taimanao told Saipan Tribune.
“The licenses fees paid by poker owners are one funding source that has helped us and contributed in our economy. The money collected goes into our revenues and there’s an impact if ever they stop operating, it would be a domino effect that would hit and tumble one after another.”
“This is a real challenge for us now but we must start identifying and finding other sources of funds. More than 600 high school graduates avail the program and SHEFA could not tell them that we can no longer fund your education,” added the House Education Committee vice chair.
SHEFA chair Babauta has also noted the decreasing renewals of poker licenses. “But we’re working with [House] Speaker [Rafael S. Demapan] and [SNILD] chair JP Sablan to support our mission.”
Demapan said the poker license fees generate a minimum of $3 million for SHEFA, enough to assist students under the program. “That’s why Rep. Taimanao proposed HLB 19-66 to address SHEFA’s needs.”
“We’re going to have two more sessions before it goes down to the delegation level. The committee is working in due diligence in making sure to get inputs from the SHEFA board and other stakeholders. From there the committee will deliberate and review the legislation for the delegation’s action,” added Demapan.
Taimanao, however, said SHEFA could get a share of the pie generated from the casino fees. “The gaming commission could provide assistance in any possible way. Any help will do because the bottom line is all about the education of our children.”
“We have to look for other ways and look at the possibility of casino fees as stated in PL 18-56. There’s money sitting with the casino license fees. This is better raising or imposing new taxes.”