Saipan casino operator Imperial Pacific International Holdings (IPI) enjoyed a VIP bounce in February as it awaits regulatory approval to open its permanent gaming venue.
On Monday, the Hong Kong-listed IPI announced that VIP gambling turnover at its Best Sunshine Live temporary casino totaled $2.96b in March. The figure is a darn sight better than the $1.67b the property reported in February but well shy of the record $5.6b Best Sunshine’s tables reported in January.
IPI also announced that the casino at its under-construction permanent Imperial Pacific Resort venue had “opened for visiting” at 3pm on Friday. Local media quoted the venue’s casino games table director Scott Morrow saying the facility was still waiting for local authorities to issue the necessary clearances and permits for the actual gambling to commence.
The Saipan Tribune quoted Morrow saying the 140k-square-meter gaming floor’s 72 gaming tables would initially be split between 38 VIP tables and 34 mass tables, but the resort’s Phase II expansion – which Morrow expects will be completed in two to three months – would include a dedicated VIP area, after which the main floor will be for mass market gamblers only.
FBI MAKES ARREST IN WORKER’S DEATH, IPI THREATENS BLOOMBERG
Meanwhile, local media reported over the weekend that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had made an arrest following last week’s raid on the offices of the construction company building IPI’s permanent resort. The raid followed last month’s death of a Chinese national who was employed by the project’s main contractor.
On Saturday, the FBI announced that the investigation was related to “allegations of a federal violation of the workplace visa system, including reports the company was systematically harboring individuals who are out of status and in violation of federal statutes.” Saipan Gov. Ralph Torres said Sunday the company in question was contractor MCC Inc.
The raid initially prompted speculation by US media outlet Bloomberg that it could be related to Bloomberg’s earlier reporting that US financial watchdogs were investigating allegations of financial shenanigans at Best Sunshine Live, something IPI has vehemently denied.
Last week’s reports prompted IPI to issue a statement referencing Bloomberg’s coverage, saying IPI hadn’t received “any investigation notice from any of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation or government departments.” IPI also said it planned to “take formal legal actions against Bloomberg for its repeated unfounded report [sic] over the past year based on third party sources.”
BLOOMBERG LINKS IPI TO ESTEEM CAPITAL
Bloomberg recently doubled down on its IPI criticism, filing a report that linked IPI to Esteem Capital Success Ltd, a firm that funded controversial fact-finding trips to Hong Kong and Macau for Saipan legislators in late 2013, just months prior to the territory crafting its casino legislation.
The connection came to light via a Hong Kong court case involving a VIP gambler who owed HKD 212m (US $27m) to a subsidiary of Simsen International, which reportedly shared the same Hong Kong business address as Esteem Capital. The same address was taken over by IPI’s corporate headquarters last year.
As recently as November, IPI denied any links to Esteem Capital. But the Hong Kong case featured testimony from the indebted gambler that Esteem’s representatives included Ji Xiaobo and Cai Lingli. Ji’s mother Cui Lijie owns a majority stake in IPI while Cai is IPI’s executive director.
Esteem Capital’s funding of the fact-finding trips was considered unusual in that the firm was not among the parties seeking to win the lone Saipan casino license. The unsuccessful bidder filed an equally unsuccessful lawsuit alleging that legislators had received “significant benefits” from casino investors prior to awarding the Saipan license to IPI.