Saipan casino: Boon or bane?

Saipan— Within minutes after the doors opened, the slot machines started clanking and clanging. Patrons sat on rows of blackjack tables, bracing to win or lose. Others loitered around the sprawling high-ceilinged lobby, marveling at the huge electronic screen with a moving picture of waterfalls and the ceiling screen with animated impression of the sky. On the right side stand twin arching staircases with glass railings, where you might imagine a woman in crystal-encrusted gown descending dramatically. Welcome to Las Vegas on Saipan.

Officials of the Imperial Pacific International stood at the lobby to welcome approximately 200 guests, most of whom are Asian tourists, during the July 6 opening of the casino component of the Imperial Pacific Resort Saipan. It opened in a rather uncharacteristically quiet fashion — no fanfare, no dragon dance, no speeches — purportedly attempting to temper public attention to the opulent project that has been saddled with all sorts of controversy.

The still unfinished gold-ornate edifice imposes its presence in the hotel district of Garapan. It is touted to cost $7-billion to finish construction. From the Beach Road view, the 14-storey building sticks out on the horizon, as if announcing Saipan’s ingress into the new era.

It is glorious. No, it is gaudy. The choice of adjectives depends on who you are talking to. One’s review of the Imperial Pacific Resort’s aesthetics can be influenced by the individual’s sentiment and stance on the casino debate. After all, casino gambling is an inherently polarizing issue.

“We are doing this to ourselves. After the garment industry, we let the casino enter into our community as if outsiders are our only economic rescuers,” said a CNMI official, who requested anonymity.

Shaking his head, the official added, “I don’t fault the Imperial Pacific; they’re in the business of doing business and they will do business wherever they are allowed to and they would do whatever it takes. I didn’t blame Willie Tan when he was doing the garment business that drew him criticisms. Our government allowed him to do what he was doing. I only blame those who allowed themselves to be bought.”