Status of Casino Exclusivity for Imperial Pacific International in Saipan Remains Uncertain

Sports Betting Update: August 29, 2023, 07:43h. 

Latest News: August 29, 2023, 07:43h.

Imperial Pacific International (IPI) and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) have been battling for casino exclusivity in Saipan for years. However, a recent ruling by the CNMI Supreme Court indicates that there is no clear resolution in sight for this ongoing dispute.

A view of the front of the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan
A view of the front of the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan. The casino remains in limbo as a fight over its license lingers. (Image: Saipan Tribune)

Local media outlet Marianas Variety recently reported that the CNMI Supreme Court has determined that IPI’s casino exclusivity is no longer absolute. This ruling aligns with previous court decisions and may bring some clarity to the situation surrounding the long-abandoned Imperial Palace casino.

However, it wasn’t a complete victory for CNMI and the Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC). The Supreme Court also found that the gaming regulator made mistakes in the process and that IPI could regain its exclusivity if it resolves its outstanding debts.

End of the Line Approaching

Over two years ago, the CCC suspended IPI’s license due to missed payments, despite the Imperial Palace casino being non-operational. This resulted in the casino operator owing the regulator hundreds of millions of dollars, leading to the suspension of its activities.

IPI also faced legal claims worth millions of dollars at the same time, further exacerbating the situation. The casino operator disputed the license suspension decision, but the CNMI Superior Court ruled in favor of the regulator.

However, IPI continued to fight the ruling, eventually reaching the Supreme Court. In its recent ruling, the high court determined that while the regulator was justified in taking action, it should have followed an amendment in the gaming compact that allowed for an extension of IPI’s payment deadlines.

This extension grants IPI until 2025 to fulfill its obligations to the Community Benefit Fund, which supports certain government employees. Additionally, the court ruled that the CCC must give IPI more time to catch up on any outstanding payments.

IPI argued that the closure of Imperial Palace was due to COVID-19, which was denied by some court justices. However, the Supreme Court recognized IPI’s “force majeure” case, despite its legal and financial troubles predating the pandemic.

This ruling contradicts a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that favored the CCC, highlighting the lack of consistency in interpretations of IPI’s casino compact and the impact it has had on CNMI.

Uncertain Future

Currently, IPI does not possess an active license in CNMI. However, if it manages to repay its outstanding debt, this situation could change. Nonetheless, the casino’s assets have been stripped away to settle its debts, meaning it is far from being ready to reopen.

The CCC is attempting to obtain more funds from IPI, but this endeavor is expected to face challenges like previous attempts. The regulator is reportedly owed $100,000 in fees related to the ongoing legal case and has sought intervention from the CNMI District Court.

These funds are being held by the court as a bond that IPI had to pay during the regulator’s legal fight with the company. The CCC’s operations have been severely impacted, with office closures, employee layoffs, and a non-existent budget, making it crucial for them to seek assistance wherever possible.

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