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IPI will ‘vigorously defend’ exclusive casino license

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IMPERIAL Pacific International (CNMI) LLC on Monday said it will “vigorously defend” its exclusive rights to all gaming on Saipan.

IPI denied an earlier report that it was willing to give up exclusivity.

“That is not the case,” IPI stated. “To the contrary, IPI will vigorously defend our exclusive rights to all gaming. IPI believes that all gaming activity, such as video poker machines and e-gaming, should be under the exclusive gaming license of IPI and be subject to the oversight of the Commonwealth Casino Commission.”

As the implementation of the casino agreement enters its sixth year, IPI said, “we sincerely appeal to the government to consolidate all gaming activity under one regulatory framework as promised.”

IPI said it has asked the lottery commission and the casino commission to try to ensure a “healthy and sustainable gaming industry on Saipan with true exclusivity as its foundation.”

Last week, IPI Chief Executive Officer Donald Browne told the CNMI government that IPI would not be able to pay this year’s $15.5 million annual casino license fee that was due on Aug. 12.

The casino commission, for its part,  said it is “investigating” IPI’s compliance with Commission Order 2020-003, which requires the casino investor to maintain sufficient funds for three months’ payroll; and with Commissioner Order 2020-004, which requires IPI to meet its obligations to private vendors and the government including contributions to the community benefit fund.

Failure to comply with these orders may result in the revocation of the exclusive casino license, said commission chairman Edward C. Deleon Guerrero.

In an interview, House Minority Leader Edwin Propst said IPI must pay the $15.5 million annual license fee. He said the minority bloc understands predicament of IPI, “but that was the agreement.”

He likened the exclusive license to a car loan. If a debtor  fails to pay, he added, the car gets repossessed.

In the case of the casino operator’s failure to pay, the exclusive license should be revoked, Propst said.

In a separate interview, House Gaming Committee Chairman Ralph Yumul said there is a process that must be followed before the license can be revoked.

Moreover, he said, before the Legislature can amend the casino law to allow the entry of other casino investors, IPI should be given an opportunity to, for example, propose a payment plan.

On Monday, IPI senior vice president for public affairs Tao Xing sought an appointment with Finance Secretary David DLG Atalig to discuss a payment plan.

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