By Bryan Manabat
Saipan— The colossal gold-trimmed building sticks out in the sky of Garapan, dwarfing the surrounding establishments in the heart of Saipan’s tourist district. The Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel has long been shut down and quiet, but its massive presence serves as a reminder of the CNMI’s grand experiment that has failed.
The Imperial Pacific International, which holds the monopoly license for Saipan casinos, is trapped in legal quagmires. Its license is on the chopping block, but it continues to bet on its survival.
The Imperial Pacific’s last-ditch attempt to stay the casino license revocation hearing has fizzled out after the U.S. Supreme Court in a one-page order denied its petition for a writ of certiorari.
IPI petitioned the high court to set aside the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling that reversed a federal court’s decision to refer IPI’s license revocation case to arbitration.
While the commission was gearing up for the license revocation set for Jan. 31, the Imperial Pacific sued the CNMI governor and the Commonwealth Casino Commission officials for breach of the casino license agreement. The lawsuit alleged unconstitutional impairment of contract and violation of due process clauses of the U.S. and CNMI Constitutions.
IPI was asking the court to declare the Imperial Pacific "exempt or excepted from,” the terms of the regulatory fee “because of the express terms" of the license agreement.
And while fighting the CNMI government, the Imperial Pacific's parent company is facing a possible delisting from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange if issues with the CNMI were not resolved, according to the Asia Gaming Brief's report in December.
Ben Lee, managing partner at IGamiX, a Macau-based gaming consulting firm, noted that the best outcome would be that “a new investor takes over from IPI, keeping the same license that had been issued under the gaming regulation. That’s what the current casino commission is waiting and hoping for.”
However, despite initial talks with investors from Japan and Korea, Imperial Pacific has struggled to draw interest, what with endless scandals and controversies that hound the Saipan casino operator, including FBI raids, labor lawsuits, outstanding tax obligations and suspicions of money laundering.
"It is time for the Commonwealth Casino Commission to do their job and revoke the casino license from IPI," Saipan Rep. Edwin Propst, one of the most vocal critics of the casino, said in an earlier interview with the Pacific Island Times.
So for now, the industry which was touted as the CNMI’s economic salvation doesn’t seem likely to be salvaged.