Wanted: Public comments


If you’re a “person of unsavory reputation” or have “extensive police records,” exclusive Saipan casino license holder Best Sunshine International Ltd. is not supposed to cater to you, help you, hire you, or associate with you in any way.

And if you’re a member of the 18th CNMI Legislature (which passed the initial Saipan casino legislation without meeting the 72-hour advance public notice of the Open Government Act and without conducting public hearings), you and your immediate family are not supposed to be paid or receive any financial consideration from Best Sunshine.

Nor shall you be retained as Best Sunshine’s independent contractor or employed by them directly or indirectly.

These are but some of the provisions in the 127-page emergency casino regulations that came into effect on April 1, 2015, and valid for 120 days. There is no public comment available on regulations subjected to “emergency” adoption.

The Commonwealth Casino Commission justified the emergency adoption by saying that the CNMI government has an urgent need for financial resources. Without such emergency regulations, Best Sunshine won’t be able to hire and train employees as well as order gaming machines and equipment for its temporary casino or live training facility, the commission said.

However, also on April 1, the Commission approved publication in the Commonwealth Register of the “proposed” permanent casino regulations. It will be opened up for a 30-day public comment period.

The Commission will then review the public comments received and make changes if necessary, before adopting the casino regulations as permanent regulations.

Make the time to review the proposed regulations and submit comments to the Commonwealth Casino Commission. This is an opportune time to recommend how the Saipan casino industry should be regulated, how you want the Commission to oversee Best Sunshine, or how you want to make sure that casino revenues are accurately collected and reported, among other things.

Given that portions of the Saipan casino legalization process have not inspired confidence for many, the public cannot afford to lose yet another opportunity to register their concerns and recommendations, this time on the proposed regulations that will govern the casino industry.

After all, Best Sunshine promises a whopping $7.1-billion integrated casino resort that will forever change Saipan and the CNMI, whether for the best or worst.

Under the proposed regulations, the machine license fee at the temporary or permanent casino facilities is $125 per year per machine for machines 1 to 100; $100 per year per additional machine for machines 101 to 300; and $75 per year per additional machine for machines 301 or more. Do you think the fees are just right?

In Singapore, the government widened its casino-entry ban for citizens to include those who are bankrupt or reliant on government aid. Whether the CNMI people want to ban entry into Saipan casino of residents who are financially vulnerable such as those receiving food stamps or who are considered bankrupt remains to be seen.

Singapore also imposed casino-entry levies, banned casino advertising targeting locals and set up programs to dissuade problem gambling in response to concerns about the rise in social problems. These include organized crimes and gambling addiction. Does the CNMI want the same protections for its residents and communities?

Many of the regulations’ provisions are standard practices in other jurisdictions with casino industries, such as security or surveillance cameras, or the licensing of casino employees. They also contain the same provisions of the Saipan casino law such as the minimum number of hotel rooms, the types of gaming machines, development phases and construction timelines.

The regulations provide detailed requirements that Best Sunshine and other industry vendors must satisfy. They cover a broad range of subjects, including licensing casino employees, rules of casino games, auditing, accounting systems, disciplinary penalties for casino operators, restrictions for certain individuals, petitions and hearing processes, junket operators, and curbing gambling-related social ills.

The CNMI’s own regulatory agency proposed a provision on programs to address “problem gambling.” For example, Best Sunshine is supposed to post or provide in conspicuous places in the casino areas written materials concerning the nature and symptoms of problem gambling as well as the toll-free number of entities providing information and referral services for problem gamblers.

Portions of casino revenues are supposed to go into public health services along with education and other social services; whether specific amounts will be set aside to combat gambling addiction also remain to be seen.

Best Sunshine’s failure to establish problem gambling programs or implement other requirements in the regulations, or to cure deficiencies, constitutes an “unsuitable method of operation” and is grounds for disciplinary action.

There is also supposed to be a list of excluded and excludable persons from entering the casino, including Best Sunshine’s temporary casino on the ground floor of T Galleria in Garapan.

Again, the CNMI could come up with the best casino regulations possible but, without proper enforcement, all efforts to make the industry work for the CNMI and its people would only go to waste.

Haidee V. Eugenio Reyes

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