Saipan casino operator Imperial Pacific International Holdings (IPI) has been granted extensions on deadlines for both its temporary and permanent gaming venues.
On Tuesday, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Lottery Commission granted IPI an extension of the August 11, 2017 deadline for completing the casino portion of its in-development Imperial Pacific Resort (pictured) in Saipan’s Garapan region. The new casino must now be completed by August 31, 2018.
The Commission also approved IPI’s request to extend the operations of its Best Sunshine Live ‘temporary’ casino in Garapan’s T Galleria shopping mall. Best Sunshine was supposed to shut down on April 30, but has now been granted permission to operate until August 31, 2018.
IPI submitted its extension requests in February, citing construction delays caused by 2015’s Typhoon Soudelor and a shortage of trained workers. That latter factor has caused IPI no shortage of bad ink following the detention of nearly 200 illegal Chinese workers at the construction site, a scandal that IPI has blamed on its main contractor.
Five individuals connected with IPI’s contractors have since been indicted for harboring illegal aliens, and workers mounted highly visible protests last week regarding unpaid wages. IPI has said it doesn’t condone its contractors’ activities and claimed to be taking “a more proactive approach in assuring all laws are followed.”
The PR nightmare led Casino Control Commissioner Alvaros Santos to publicly rebuke IPI execs, telling them their actions had damaged “the reputation of the company and the government.” Santos warned IPI not to “put out a façade that ‘we contracted them, that’s their responsibility.’ You must go further than that.”
Commission chairman Mark Rabauliman, who also heads up Saipan’s Department of Commerce, told the Marianas Variety that granting IPI its desired extensions would be controversial, but argued that it would be “irresponsible” to yank IPI’s permits at this point, and thus the best course of action was to give IPI “time to finish what they agreed to in the license agreement.”
IPI had originally requested an extension of only six months for its temporary casino and suggested that it may still be able to open the permanent resort’s gaming facilities by the original August 2017 deadline. IPI conducted a ‘preview’ of the new casino earlier this month but offered no indication when it might begin welcoming actual gamblers to place their bets.
NEW TAXES COMING?
IPI’s annual report for 2016 revealed that its revenue rose more than tenfold to HKD 7.5b (US $964m), while profit from continuing operations was up almost 20x to HKD 936m ($120.3m). Best Sunshine didn’t begin operations until November 2015, which accounts for the drastic comparative disparity.
Turnover at Best Sunshine’s 16 VIP tables hit nearly $32.4b last year, or more than $2b per table. By comparison, the casino’s 32 mass market tables reported combined drop of $118m, while its 141 slot machines and electronic table games generated handle of $87.3m.
Saipan’s government doesn’t get much of that bounty, having failed to impose a tax on gaming revenue when it originally approved its casino laws. But Rep. Janet Maratita has introduced legislation that would impose a 5% tax on all gaming revenue in the CNMI. House Bill 20-31 wouldn’t take effect until Imperial Pacific’s permanent casino opens for business.