Casino revenue will eventually be taxed in Mariana Islands

Best Sunshine International is currently paying excise taxes on top of its US$15 million annual casino fee.

Governor Ralph Torres said Best Sunshine International’s casino gaming revenue will eventually be taxed, but not right now.

Northern Mariana Islands.- Yesterday (Tuesday) Governor Ralph Torres on said Best Sunshine International’s casino gaming revenue will eventually be taxed. He went on saying that taxing casino gaming is an important issue, but there is a right time to do it and now is not yet the right time. “When you encourage casino gaming, you start an investment and eventually we should tax it,” Torres added. “No ifs, no buts, definitely we will tax them, but we need them to get the investment started first before we start taxing them.”

Torres said that Best Sunshine International is paying at the moment excise taxes on top of its US$15 million annual casino fee. According to Variety, Best Sunshine International has been paying in advance the casino license fee for the first three years amounting to US$45 million. Starting last year, the facility has already paid US$10.058 million in business gross revenue tax, US$2.45 million in building permits and developer fees and US$1.74 million in Coastal Resources Management and Department of Public Works permits. Furthermore, the casino paid US$1.591 million in excise taxes. So starting from last year to February this year, Best Sunshine International paid a total of U$64.467 million in combined BGRT, excise taxes and other local fees to the CNMI Treasury.

“There are certain things about the Saipan casino. We should not forget that in their investment here, we didn’t waive the excise tax,” Torres explained. “They pay the excise tax and they are not eligible for a Qualifying Certificate which Rota and Tinian have. Casino investors in Tinian and Rota are eligible to apply for QC [tax breaks]. And although gaming revenue is not taxed, you’ve seen them grow the economy by leasing land and housing units, creating employment opportunities, hiring locals and paying them competitive salaries, among other things. Yes we do need to tax gaming, but now is not the right time to do that.”

When asked when would be the right time to start doing it, the governor replied: “Whenever you look at the tax rate, you have to look at the amount of investment and what the projected revenue is. That will be the right time to discuss the tax. Are we going to propose 1 percent, 2 percent or a 10 percent tax? Eventually it may even go up to 20 percent. Yes, we want growth, but up to what time do we need to grow? When do we stop the growth? What is our capacity? We need to consider those things also before we decide on that.”