Imperial Pacific shuts casino “until further notice” after storm


imperial-pacific-casino-closedSaipan casino operator Imperial Pacific International (IPI) is temporarily closing its venue after a tropical storm damaged the island’s international airport.

In late October, Super Typhoon Yutu hit the US Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), killing two local residents and destroying thousands of homes. The Saipan International Airport also suffered extensive damage and inbound traffic was restricted to humanitarian aid flights.

On Thursday, the Marianas Variety quoted IPI saying it would close its Imperial Pacific Resort on Friday “until further notice” because the airport’s closure has “put a complete halt to the tourism industry.”

IPI said the airport “is scheduled to resume normal operations soon,” but the company believes it will likely be “several weeks” before normality actually returns. CNMI officials said Thursday that the airport had resumed a limited number of international tourist arrivals from sunrise to sunset and hoped to restore full functionality by November 20.

Saipan’s geographic isolation and miniscule population means IPI relies almost entirely on a steady influx of foreign high-rollers to keep its operations humming. The company said it decided that it “did not want to continue to keep casino open by attracting only [local] residents to patronize the casino.”

IPI says its venue also “suffered millions of dollars in unexpected damage” from the storm, necessitating repairs to safeguard employees and the contractors who are still finishing construction of the resort. The company originally decided to have “limited casino operations for two weeks” but now believes a total shutdown is one of the “steps the company must take to survive the unforeseeable business effects of this natural disaster.”

However justified, IPI’s announcement will likely only fuel the bankruptcy rumors that IPI was forced to publicly refute last week. The company has endured a seemingly endless streak of bad news, including massive writeoffs of uncollectable VIP gambling debts, disrupted payments to staff and contractors and a flurry of senior management resignations.

IPI opened its temporary Saipan casino in 2015, then transferred its operations to the still unfinished permanent resort last year. The company recently announced plans for a $38m bond placement to fund construction of its resort, and welcomed back former chairman Mark Brown to oversee completion of the construction.