Imperial Palace Casino May Not Be Structurally Sound After Prolonged Closure

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Posted on: May 5, 2023, 07:44h. 

Last updated on: May 5, 2023, 01:21h.

The Imperial Palace casino in Saipan has been closed for two years after construction on the property was stopped. Its operator, Imperial Pacific International (IPI), and the Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) are meeting this month to determine what happens next.

Even if a court-ordered arbitration determines it’s time to take the figurative chains off the doors, the casino may not be structurally safe enough to open.

Cranes sit atop the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan two years after construction stopped
Cranes sit atop the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan two years after construction stopped. Concerns are increasing that the construction equipment and the property are falling into irreversible disrepair. (Image: Marianas Variety)

The Department of Public Works (DPW) of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) wants access to the property to conduct a major inspection. Construction upgrades stopped two years ago following a number of financial disasters and COVID-19, and almost no one, except for a couple of thieves, has entered since.

When the work halted, construction cranes and heavy equipment dotted the landscape and the property’s roofs. Nestled between the Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the salt air is taking its toll on the equipment and the property.

Potential Rust Bucket

Saltwater and salty air don’t directly cause metals to rust, but do speed up the naturally occurring oxidation process. That, in turn, leads to corrosion and rust. Most salt air can corrode metal up to 10 times faster than dry air that doesn’t contain salt.

In some cases, corrosion can begin to appear within just a couple of days. If it goes unchecked for two years, like in the case of Imperial Palace, the damage may be irreversible.

The DPW wants to find out what is occurring at the resort. It wants to inspect everything, including all “electrical, mechanical, and standard components” of the property, according to Mariana Variety.

In the DPW’s last inspection two years ago, there were reportedly already signs of rust and corrosion. Therefore, the agency wants to conduct a full safety inspection as soon as possible.

Inspectors would also need to check out the structural integrity of the building, including the framework and welding. The DPW hasn’t acknowledged the reason for specifying these inspections. But it’s likely a crucial requirement.

It’s known that IPI employed hundreds of undocumented workers to build the resort. In theory, it could have put some people on jobs for which they weren’t qualified.

Once it gains access, the DPW should have intimate knowledge about the layout and location of all equipment and potential trouble spots. The man now leading the department is Ray Yumul, who previously served as the CEO of Imperial Palace for a year.

Chasing Down the CCC

In order to conduct the inspections, the DPW wants permission from the CCC. But it hasn’t been able to contact Commissioner Ralph S. Demapan for authorization.

As of Friday, several days after the DPW made its request, it still hasn’t been able to locate him. Demapan is likely getting ready for an upcoming trip to Hawaii for the series of arbitration meetings. But it shouldn’t be difficult for two government officials to contact each other.

It’s also possible that the commissioner is updating his resume. With no casino to oversee, the CNMI wants to eliminate the salary commissioners are still receiving.

Currently, commissioners earn $65K each per year. But a Senate initiative would eliminate almost all of that compensation. Instead, they would earn $60 for each full-day meeting, and up to $30 for a half-day meeting.

Marianas Variety explains this would bring the CCC under the guidance of Section 8247 of the Commonwealth Code. That legislative framework also caps the annual payout, regardless of the number of meetings, at $6,000 per commissioner.

The CCC members are fighting the measure.

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