Published: December 15, 2023

Northern Mariana Islands Online Gaming May Be Possible Through New Bill

In a move to counter the economic setbacks caused by the Imperial Palace casino debacle, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is contemplating a foray into online gambling. Imperial Pacific International’s failed venture has left the U.S. territory facing losses in the hundreds of millions, and iGaming could be the way to go.

CNMI Representative Ralph Yumul, the chair of the House Gaming Committee and brother of former IPI CEO Ray Yumul, introduced his groundbreaking bill on Thursday. Media outlet Marianas Variety reported that the proposed legislation aims to pave the way for electronic gaming websites and other internet-accessible software applications to operate under a licensing framework.

This could potentially revitalize the local economy by tapping into the lucrative online gambling market. It greenlights a diverse array of gaming options, including roulette, blackjack, craps, online slots, and more.

Welcoming Blockchain Solutions

The bill doesn’t stop at online casino gaming. It also encompasses sports and eSports betting. It also would allow other forms of betting, such as wagering on reality TV shows and political elections.

A distinctive feature of Yumul’s proposal is the integration of blockchain technology into all financial transactions related to online gambling. While the bill doesn’t explicitly specify whether transactions would be conducted in bitcoin or an alternative cryptocurrency, the use of blockchain ensures a transparent and secure financial ecosystem.

Yumul admits that his proposal is barely in its infancy. He suggests a licensing process, but doesn’t detail the associated fees. He also acknowledged that there needs to be significant discussion among legislators and community members to gauge the feasibility and reactions.

He points out that several U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New Jersey, have regulated iGaming markets. Should the CNMI take this route, it would also follow in at least one of those state’s footsteps, adopting its gaming laws and regulations.

Yumul also may have taken a subtle dig at IPI in his remarks. He said that online gambling doesn’t have the “promise of a hotel resort or a building.”

If successfully enacted, this legislation could mark a significant turning point for CNMI’s economic landscape. It would inject vitality into a region that has grappled with the aftermath of IPI’s catastrophic failure with Imperial Palace.

Land-Based Gaming Still On the Table

Yumul was behind a legislative initiative in 2021 to try to authorize five casinos in Saipan. That didn’t get far, given IPI’s exclusivity agreement with the government, and Yumul is now taking a different approach to gambling expansion.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be changes to land-based gaming in the future. IPI now has less than 30 days to pay $62 million in delinquent license fees, or it may lose its license.

The company is currently fighting the claim, asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to support its claim that the demand is unconstitutional. Previous court rulings against IPI suggest that the high court won’t have much sympathy.

Industry insiders, including Asian gaming expert Ben Lee, have often suggested that Saipan was wrong to try the exclusivity model. Should the CNMI strip the license exclusivity as it has threatened, it would create several possibilities.

The creation of a small market of casinos, all with much smaller footprints than the Imperial Palace, might be a viable option. Allowing someone to take over the Imperial Palace as-is probably wouldn’t be one.

The third option would be to completely forego the idea of land-based gambling, relying solely on the iGaming segment. While not likely to garner much support in the CNMI, it’s likely the most forward-looking among the three choices.

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