Senate gaming committee urged to act fast on casino bill

Monday 27th January 2020

The Commonwealth Casino Commission appealed to members of the Senate Committee on Gaming yesterday to act soon on House Bill 21-11, which would expand the authority of the regulatory body over casino operations in the CNMI.

"This bill is long overdue and I hope that this body will act as soon as possible," said CCC chair Juan M. Sablan.

The bill, re-introduced by House vice speaker Lorenzo Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan), is meant to enable the regulatory agency to more effectively fulfill its mandate of regulating the casino industry.

"The Commonwealth would be better protected if the entity that is expected to regulate it has the authority to do so," CCC executive director Edwin Deleon Guerrero said, adding that the commission also sees the need to protect and manage the revenue that is coming into the Commonwealth.

"There's some other issues there that involves protecting the Commonwealth Treasury, [such as] by restricting any tax write-off. While we enhance our enforcement responsibility and capability, we are also trying to close any loopholes that might drain the fiscal resources of the Commonwealth," Deleon Guerrero added.

The CCC executive director also revealed that a lot of revenue coming in is from the VIP gaming credits so they would want to protect and make sure, as included in the H.B. 21-11, that those credits cannot be written off.

The bill would give the CCC the enforcement authority over gaming-related violations, complementary to the enforcement authority of the Department of Public Safety.

"All of our enforcement investigations are specifically trained on gaming-related activities. That's something that we think CCC is in the best position, to be the responsible entity to implement. We will still work with DPS, and still work with the federal [agencies] on others issues," Deleon Guerrero said.

With concerns still pending, particularly in relation to the Lottery Commission, and with the CCC waiting for years now for the bill to be enacted, Sablan asks that the Senate acts fast to move the bill forward, suggesting that amendments can always be done in the future.

"For three and a half years we have been waiting," Sablan said. "I really like to move forward. There's always another time, no bill is perfect. You can always go back. These [implied amendments] is just to clear the confusion between ourselves, the Lottery Commission, and whatsoever."

"We would like to move forward and continue with what we have to do that is mandated of us to do by the statute, but give us the authority and better clarify to clear the confusions that we are faced with. So again, we encourage the committee and members of the Senate to please act on this legislation," Sablan added.

The discussion on H.B. 21-11 will continue at the next Senate Cannabis and Gaming Committee meeting that is tentatively set on Feb 13, Thursday, at the Senate chamber on Capital Hill.

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