Northern Mariana Islands

Saipan casino license expansion bill cannot be passed by legislative delegation, Senate President says

Jude Hofschneider, Senate President for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Northern Mariana Islands
Reading time 2:14 min

Senate President Jude U. Hofschneider said on Friday that the Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation has no authority to pass a casino bill in the third senatorial district in Saipan and the Northern Islands, in Northern Mariana Islands.

House Local Bill 22-26, which was pre-filed on October 26 and introduced on October 29, would authorize, establish and regulate casino gaming in the third senatorial district. It was referred to a SNILD -Saipan & Northern Islands Legislative Delegation- committee because it did not meet the required number of appearances on the House agenda, according to Marianas Variety.

But the bill is now facing trouble: in a letter to the SNILD chair, Senate Floor Leader Vennie F. Sablan, Hofschneider said that there were issues with asserting that the delegation has the authority to enact a casino law through a local bill pursuant to Public Law 18-56.

The casino bill cites this law, which states gaming and wagering is authorized in Northern Mariana Islands providing that gambling occurs in the casino venues of the casino operator licensed pursuant to this chapter, or in a casino licensed pursuant to the laws of a senatorial district.

“The assertion is that PL 19-56 authorized casino gaming in the CNMI; therefore, SNILD can enact its own local bill to establish a casino act,” Hofschneider said, according to Variety. But “PL 18-56 did not expressly authorize any of the senatorial districts to enact a casino law through a local bill.”

According to the Senate President, HLB 22-26 “proposes regulations that are contrary to PL 18-56.” Moreover, even if Public Law 18-56 did authorize SNILD to enact a casino act through a local bill, Hofschneider warns that the casino bill “conflicts with PL 18-56 that supersedes local law.” 

“PL 18-56 established a casino commission that regulates the casino in the third senatorial district and one exclusive license,” he added. “SNILD cannot enact a local bill that supersedes or contradicts the authority of the casino commission established by PL 18-56. Moreover, SNILD cannot enact a local bill that increases the number of casino licenses in the third senatorial district when PL 18-56 established only one exclusive license.”

In his letter to the SNILD chair, Hofschneider further notes that the bill intends to establish a casino commission for the third senatorial district, which would be considered “an agency of local government.” The Northern Mariana Islands Constitution states such agencies may only be established with the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the persons qualified to vote from the island or islands to be served by the proposed agency.

Concluding his statement, Hofschneider said House Local Bill 22-26 is “not legally sufficient” and that the SNILD would thus not have the authority to pass it. The only local law authorized to establish local casinos is a local initiative pursuant to Article XXI of the CNMI Constitution, said the Senate President: the only other way to establish a casino in a senatorial district would be through the enactment “of a Commonwealth law.”

Local Bill 22-26 was first introduced by the House Floor Leader Ralph N. Yumul in an effort to expand the current one licensee framework to up to five licenses, as Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific International, the troubled exclusive rights holder to casino gaming, can’t pay its fees. The proposed new system would provide increased stability and dependability by not relying on a sole operator, according to the bill.

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