Saipan legislators considering lifting poker machine moratorium

In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and legislators have reportedly discussed the possibility of lifting a moratorium for the island of Saipan that prevents local arcade operators from bringing in any new poker machines.

According to a report from the Marianas Variety newspaper, the current freeze is a result of legislation passed in July of 2014 that forbids operators from obtaining licenses to offer new ‘poker, pachinko or similar amusement machines but not including electronic gaming machines’. This measure, which is known as Public Law 18-56, also prevents these units from being operated ‘outside of the approved casino establishment’ such as in residential areas.

Declining income:

However, the newspaper cited the United States Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis in reporting that Saipan is facing an up to 50% year-on-year drop in gaming revenues for 2020 due to a decline in tourist numbers recently compounded by the outbreak of a coronavirus strain in China. The island is home to the giant Imperial Palace Saipan venue from Imperial Pacific International Holdings Limited and this property had regularly welcomed large numbers of Chinese gamblers to enjoy its selection of some 350 slots and 200 gaming tables.

Legislative proposition:

The Marianas Variety reported that Ralph Yumul from the Northern Mariana Islands House of Representatives has now suggested that the territory could assuage some of its gambling shortfall by lifting the moratorium on new poker machines. The 48-year-old legislator also serves as Chairman for the jurisdiction’s House Gaming Committee and purportedly emphasized that the proposed move would only apply to Saipan and to areas where these units were permitted before the 2014 freeze was initiated.

Yumul reportedly stated…

“The idea is to allow those businesses to expand, which could generate additional revenues for the government.”

Additional amendments:

The Marianas Variety reported that Saipan is currently home to about 500 ageing poker machines but that a second piece of local legislation prohibits their operation in commercial districts, tourist resorts and large parts of the island’s largest community, Garapan. Yumul explained that he will be continuing to hold discussions with fellow lawmakers about ways in which the American territory can bring in fresh gaming revenues.

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