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IPI says it needs help

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IMPERIAL Pacific International officials met with lawmakers on Tuesday to reiterate the IPI request for the postponement of the $15.5 million annual casino license fee payment due this year.

Because of the catastrophes that IPI has suffered over the years, its chief executive officer Donald Browne asked House members for a “reasonable remedy” by allowing IPI to pay this year’s license fee in the 15th year of the casino license agreement. The license agreement was signed on Aug. 12, 2014, which means that the 15th year of the agreement will be in 2029.

Browne was accompanied by IPI senior vice president for public affairs Tao Xing.

They were invited to a meeting with lawmakers by House Gaming Committee Chairman Ralph N. Yumul who wanted to discuss, among other things, Browne’s claim that the CNMI government breached the license agreement by allowing electronic gaming and poker arcade operations to continue on Saipan.

But Browne told lawmakers that IPI is not asking the government to shut down electronic gambling and poker arcades.

“That is not our goal. All we want is to let the public know that we were never given exclusive rights to gaming,” Browne said.

“All we’re asking for is help,” he said, adding that unlike other businesses on island, IPI is not qualified for any federal disaster assistance for the Covid-19 pandemic and the two super typhoons that slammed into Saipan in 2015 and 2018.

 

Imperial Pacific International’s casino-hotel in Garapan is still under construction. Photo by Emmanuel T. Erediano

Speaker Blas Jonathan Attao and the other House members present agreed that the casino industry has to survive, but they also want IPI to meet its obligations to the Commonwealth.

Regarding the government’s alleged breach of IPI’s exclusive rights to gaming, Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero suggested that the House legal counsel review the casino law and the casino license agreement, as well as Public Law 18-30, which allows e-gaming on island. The legal counsel will then “report back to us.”

For his part, Yumul said the Legislature should look into the situation of IPI and find ways to help.

“Let’s sit down, put everything on the table and see where we can meet in the middle,” Yumul said adding that he recognizes the contributions of IPI to the CNMI economy over the years.

“It’s just a shame that a half-billion-dollar investment is being put on hold,” he added.

Browne told Variety that the meeting with lawmakers was just the beginning of a continuous dialogue with the CNMI government.

“It is an ongoing dialogue and it’s a great step for us because we have their ears now,” Browne said.

For his part, Xing said:  “I think they are seriously considering ways to support us, to help get us out of this rocky path.”

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