Casino Commission wants only some of Lottery Commission’s duties

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THE Commonwealth Casino Commission is willing to take over the duties of the CNMI Lottery Commission related to the exclusive casino license.

Casino Commission Chairman Juan Sablan, Executive Director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, their legal counsel Mike Ernest, and other commission officials met with members of the House Gaming Committee on Tuesday to discuss House Bill 21-96, which proposes to transfer to the casino commission the authority of the Lottery Commission pertaining to the CNMI gaming industry. The Lottery Commission also has authority over public lottery operations in the Commonwealth.

The Gaming Committee vice chairman, Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, presided over the meeting.

Sablan and Edward C. Deleon Guerrero told the committee that the Casino Commission is “disinclined to undertake the organization and operation of the public lottery in the CNMI.”

Doing so, they said, “would divert attention and resources” from the Casino Commission’s most important mission — the proper and thorough regulation of the casino licensee on Saipan.

Executive Director Deleon Guerrero said the operation of a public lottery could put the Casino Commission “in a position where it will be competing against the entity it regulates, and against the gaming commissions on Rota and Tinian.”

Commonwealth Casino Commission Executive Director Edward C. Deleon Guerrero, left back to the camera, speaks during a meeting with the House Gaming Committee in the speaker’s conference room on Tuesday afternoon.  Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

If, however, the intent of H.B. 21-96 is only to transfer the duties of the Lottery Commission relative to the exclusive casino license, Deleon Guerrero said the Casino Commission “wholeheartedly seeks its passage.”

The Casino Commission is asking the committee to amend the bill.

Executive Director Deleon Guerrero noted that the Saipan casino prevented the collapse of the CNMI government retirement system.

Vice Speaker Deleon Guerrero agreed, saying that the casino investor did bail out the CNMI, which was then facing a pension fund fiasco.

Executive Director Deleon Guerrero said since the casino industry is already on island and has invested over $800 million, “I think members of the Legislature and the members of the community as well should really help the Casino Commission once it assumes some of the responsibilities of the Lottery Commission [so we can] help the casino investor safely implement Phase 1 and Phase 2 of its casino project on island.”

The House will hold a session on Friday, but H.B. 21-96 is neither on the bill calendar for action nor among the measures endorsed by the standing committees for passage.

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