Northern Marianas Gov. Ralph Torres has rejected a bill that would have allowed the operations of poker arcades in select Saipan villages, the Saipan Tribune reported.
In his veto transmittal letter to Rep. John Paul Sablan, Torres expressed reservations on the poker bill’s impact on the economic growth of Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) if House Bill 20-48 was enacted. HB 20-48, which Sablan authored, sought to transform certain lots in southwestern Saipan into mixed commercial districts to accommodate the relocation of poker arcades from villages and non-specific areas.
Torres pointed out that it will cost the CNMI government some $1.4 million in revenue from the annual poker machine licensing fee if he signed the bill. There are an estimated 120 poker machines in the CNMI, each remitting $12,000 in renewal fees to the government annually.
The fees from poker go straight to the government’s socio-economic projects such as the Northern Marianas Trades Institute, non-profit and community organizations, and the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance (SHEFA), which Torres said is a crucial lifeline for students who wish to improve their lives through higher education.
“While I agree with the interest and intent of the delegation to support the economic growth and business development and provide funding to important community activities, I am unable to approve of H.L.B. 20-48, S1 as I maintain reservations about the nature of the economic growth if this bill were to be enacted,” Torres said, according to the news outlet.
The Northern Marianas governor recognized the lawmakers’ commitment to transferring gambling activities away from villages and to create a framework that will ensure communities’ welfare.
“I still believe this policy is necessary and [I] am confident our joint efforts in creating economic growth in various other sectors of our economy can provide the resources of the constituents of Saipan and the Northern Islands,” Torres said.
The CNMI government had opposed HB 20-48 since the day it was introduced in Congress. The Commonwealth Zoning Office said HB 20-48 contradicts another law that requires poker machines to move out of the villages.