The Senate Gaming Committee is looking at increasing the number of casino commissioners to seven and requiring one member to be Carolinian and one member to be a woman. Right now, the panel is specifically exempted from this constitutional rule.
Sen. Justo Quitugua (Ind-Saipan), author of Senate Bill 20-87 and chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, believes that the casino commission, which currently consists of three members representing Saipan and one member each representing Rota and Tinian, to also be subject to the constitutional mandate that every board or commission should have at least one members who is Carolinian and at least one female member. That would boost the number of commission members in order to meet these constitutional requirements.
Ultimately, S.B. 20-87 was amended to continue to allow for five members on the Saipan commission; however, Gov. Ralph DLG Torres is allowed to appoint a female and Carolinian commissioner, Quitugua told Saipan Tribune.
Right now, the casino commission is made up of all men: board chair Juan M. Sablan, Joseph C. Reyes, and Alvaro Santos representing Saipan, and Justin A. Manglona and Martin San Nicolas representing Rota and Tinian respectively.
According to Quitugua, the casino commission opposed his bill.
Based on comments from the commission, it pointed out that adding two more commissioners is an unfunded mandate and would cost the commission about $250,000.
“The Legislature needs to identify about $250,000 to fund board compensation, furniture and fixture, office spaces, training, and related expenses,” stated a Feb. 6, 2018, letter from Sablan. He added that the commission receives only $1,090 annually from local funding sources. “The commission’s main budget comes from the Commonwealth Casino Regulatory Fee Fund paid annually by the exclusive casino licensee.”
Sablan further stated that the current board composition is already consistent with other CNMI casino regulatory boards. He pointed out that S.B. 20-87’s findings failed to acknowledge that the gender and ethnicity requirements of the CNMI Constitution do not apply to the board composition of the Rota Casino Gaming Commission and the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission.
He added that the current composition of the commission is already effective and efficient.
“The current requirements for board membership in the commission are sufficient for the effective and efficient administration and oversight of the casino industry [on Saipan],” Sablan wrote, adding that the casino industry on Saipan is still in its infancy as construction of the casino is still ongoing.
“While the intent of the bill is noble, its implementation will be difficult absent appropriations of funds to cover the added costs,” he concluded.
Quitugua still believes in the need to have Carolinians and women represented on the commission.
“I am really in support of having a [person of] Carolinian descent and a woman on the board since the casino industry is new to us and these two board members are a huge representation in our community,” he said, adding that the involvement of the Carolinian community and women are needed to fully embrace the casino industry in the long run.