Gaming companies against new licence fee in N. Mariana islands

A new local licence fee on electronic gaming devices was signed into law on August 2.
A new local licence fee on electronic gaming devices was signed into law on August 2.

Mariana Entertainment and MP Holdings have filed a complaint against the CNMI government over an increase to the e-gaming licence fee signed off last week.

Northern Mariana Islands.- The Superior Court of the Northern Mariana Islands has received a complaint from Mariana Entertainment LLC and MP Holdings LLC, the owners of Club 88 and Saipan Vegas Resort lodged against the Department of Finance.

The lawsuit has been lodged against a new law that doubles the islands’ e-gaming licence fee. The companies warn that if the increased fee is not suspended, 70 of their employees will lose their jobs and the entire electronic gaming industry on Saipan will disappear.

According to Marianas Variety, the law signed by Gov Ralph DLG Torres imposes an additional fee of 15 per cent on all electronic gaming devices on Saipan, including machines located within e-gaming facilities or hotels.

The companies, via attorney Michael W. Dotts, stated: “A declaratory judgment is necessary to determine the rights and obligations of the parties as to whether the licence fee can be lawfully assessed.

“This is necessary and proper at this time so that Plaintiffs can confirm their rights and obligations as a licence holder. It is also necessary so that Plaintiffs can establish as a matter of law that Defendant has no right to collect the licence fee.”

The bill was proposed by Rep. Ralph Yumul, the brother of the CEO of Imperial Pacific International, a direct competitor to the slot parlour, which the e-gaming operators say causes a conflict of interest.

The Plaintiffs also argued that the Saipan local delegation did not give the Saipan Mayor’s Office the required 30 days to review the bill before it was enacted.

Proposed Internet Gaming Act 2021 continues to raise questions

Questions continue to be raised over potential online gaming in the Northern Mariana Islands as proposed by House Bill 22-47. Operators have pointed out that an online gambling market based out of Saipan is likely to be severely limited.

As the CNMI is a US protectorate governed by federal law, the island would not be able to take bets from US states. It would also be forbidden from accepting bets from countries where online gambling is illegal.

Potential online gaming operators note that this would leave the local market as the only potential market online gambling, and that is characterised by low levels of disposable income.

Andrew Klebanow, principal of C3 Gaming Group, said: “The local population is well-served by some slot halls and video poker parlours. Given the relatively small residential population, it is doubtful that an online operation would generate much revenue.”

Andrew Yeom, Commonwealth Casino Commission executive director, had talked up the possibility of online gambling.

He said: “Internet gaming can be a great thing for the Commonwealth if done correctly. “I can assure you there are many ways to go about it. But I am not the one to tell how the operation is set up because I am not here to give that information…. I am here as a regulator.”

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