Published: December 15, 2019

Marianas House passes bill to clarify powers of casino commission

THE House of Representatives on Tuesday unanimously approved a bipartisan bill that aims to clarify the powers of the Commonwealth Casino Commission.

All 18 House members voted to pass House Bill 21-11 which, according to some lawmakers who declined to be identified, will be “dead on arrival” in the Senate.

Authored by Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerrero, H.B. 21-11 has been repeatedly revised, and its current version is opposed by Imperial Pacific International, which said the measure may violate the CNMI Constitution.

IPI vice president for legal and external affairs Viola Alepuyo said some of the provisions of the bill also “raise legal issues, which include, but are not limited to, the prohibition of Bills of Attainder, and denial of equal protection under the NMI and U.S. Constitutions.”

These provisions, she added, may also violate the constitutional prohibition on the abridgement of contracts since IPI and the Commonwealth have entered into a casino license agreement in connection with the casino license.

Alepuyo added that the “lack of confidentiality” in the provisions of the bill regarding information pertaining to the casino operators’ financial matters “infringes on the confidentiality rights guaranteed by other provisions of the Commonwealth law.”

Prior to the roll-call vote, Rep. Joseph Leepan T. Guerrero expressed concern about giving the casino commission a “blank check,” referring to additional regulatory powers granted by the measure.

He said he would like the House to meet with IPI officials before acting on the bill.

House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said he agrees with Guerrero, but added, “I am happy that the House Gaming Committee was able to get a comment from IPI.”

But Sablan also expressed his own concern about a possible violation of confidentiality law pertaining to financial matters.

Guerrero and Sablan voted “yes” to the passage of the bill, but “with reservation.”

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