At what cost? How much do you have?

Imperial Pacific Resort

Saipan — Some critics of casino legalization ask, usually rhetorically, “At what cost?” Fair enough. In discussing any public policy, it is always good to know the cost of implementing it. However, it is also advisable to find out the cost of inaction.

Not a lot of local people, I believe, want a casino on their island. But many of them have also considered the cost of not having one and, so far, they have, more or less, tolerated the casino’s presence — as long as it delivers what its proponents say it will deliver: additional government revenue specifically for retirees.

Not a lot of people, it seems, remember news stories that are at least two days old. How many of us still recall the NMI Retirement Fund crisis and the role it played in accomplishing what many had long thought as inconceivable: the passage of a Saipan casino bill in the CNMI House and the Senate whose six of nine seats are held by two islands that had already legalized casinos and did not want to compete with Saipan’s: Tinian and Rota.

The Saipan casino law was passed in 2014, an election year. An anti-casino resident said the elected officials who supported casino “disrespected the people,” and would be rejected by the electorate. In the general elections, the pro-casino candidates won big time. (They also won in the 2016 and 2018 elections.)

These were among the news headlines before the enactment of the Saipan casino law:

“Retirement Fund files for bankruptcy”