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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Back in the 'dark days'

Saipan casino temporarily shuts down

Yutu ravaged Saipan

“Those dark days in our economy were not too long ago, and I know we all remember those days. But now we see an economy that has provided more opportunities for everyone,” CNMI Gov. Ralph Torres said on Oct. 20, trumpeting the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis’ report that highlighted the CNMI’s phenomenal economic growth at 25.1 percent in 2017.

Garapan was vibrant, swarming with tourists. The Imperial Pacific casino resort was tossing millions into the government coffers. Life was sunny.

At one fell swoop — five days after the government announced the good tidings— Supertyphoon Yutu sent the Northern Marianas back into the “dark days,” literally and figuratively.

The Commonwealth Utilities Commission has managed to switch the power and water back on in certain parts of the Saipan and Tinian, but for the most part, residents still have to light candles at night. Several offices and businesses are still relying on generators that they run for limited hours. The displaced households — over 500 of them — are at the mercy of federal largess and community assistance.

The tourists, who were greeted by the sun and the sand when they came to Saipan, left a paradise in desolation. The click-clock-dings of the casino machines have stopped.

Imperial Pacific casino

Beginning Nov. 16, the Imperial Pacific International is temporarily shutting down its casino operation in Garapan, which has become a ghost town after the typhoon. A few other hotels have also suspended operations.

The Saipan international airport has partially opened but only allows cargo flights, specifically those that carry typhoon relief assistance. Commercial flights remain suspended.

“Imperial Pacific also suffered millions of dollars in unexpected damage, forcing the company to make adjustments to ensure typhoon cleanup and repairs are done safely so employees and development continues to be protected,” IPI said.

When all tourists left Saipan after the typhoon, the Imperial Pacific casino resort reduced its hours of operation for two weeks, from Nov. 2 to 15, 2018. Essential employees were identified to work limited operation hour shifts and non-essential employees were allowed to either take paid time off or voluntarily participate in the company initiated Community Service Program with stipend allocation “to help in the community’s recovery efforts,” IPI said.

Saipan’s previous experience with Typhoon Soudelor foreboded the aftermath of Yutu. Tour packages were cancelled and it will take time to entice visitors to visit our typhoon ravaged islands. Since the demise of the garment industry in the early 2000, the intertwined tourism and casino industries have been the fuels of the CNMI economy.

“In order to make the necessary post Super-typhoon repairs and because Imperial Pacific did not want to continue to keep casino open by attracting only residents to patronize the casino, Imperial Pacific has made the difficult decision to temporarily shut down casino operations effective Nov. 16 until further notice,” IPI said. “Imperial Pacific hopes that the main industry – the tourism market – rebounds immediately after full airport operations so the company can resume normal casino operations.”

Read our special report in the December 2018 issue of the Pacific Island Times.

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