Northern Marianas main man rejects bill in blow to poker fans

The Governor of Northern Marianas, Ralph Torres, has expressed strong reservations about the operations of poker arcades in some select Saipan villages.

The House Bill 20-48, drafted by Representative John Paul Sablan was to transform some areas in Saipan into mixed commercial districts to contain the relocation of poker arcades from the villages and other areas.

Governor Torres, in a veto transmittal letter to Sablan, expressed deep concerns about the impact and subsequent outcomes the bill may have. He said if the HB 20-48 bill is passed, it would affect the economic growth of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).

He noted if the bill is signed, the CNMI government’s revenue accrued from annual poker machine licensing fees would drop by about $1.4 million. Currently, there are about 120 poker machines in the CNMI and each gives the government $12,000 in annual renewal fees.

The renewal fees contribute to the socio-economic interventions including non-profit and community organisation, and the Northern Marianas Trade Institute. Others include the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance (SHEFA), which is a critical subsidy for students wishing to seek higher education to improve their lives.

Torres said, “While I agree with the interest and intent of the delegation to support the economic growth and business development and provide funding to important community activities, I am unable to approve of H.L.B. 20-48, S1 as I maintain reservations about the nature of the economic growth if this bill were to be enacted.”

The bill aims to stop more poker arcades from being built in residential villages, instead they must be built in designated zones.