Saipan delegation wants poker parlors out of residential villages

THE Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation on Tuesday rejected by a vote of 6 to 14 a measure to extend the operation of poker industries in residential villages for another two years.

Saipan Local Law 18-5 mandates that nonconforming adult gambling machine businesses located in the villages “shall be relocated to the adult business park, tourist resort, mixed commercial, Garapan Core, Garapan East or Beach Road zoning districts” in Oct. 2017.

House Local Bill 20-12 introduced by the delegation chairman, Rep. John Paul Sablan, would have amended the law to allow poker arcades to remain in residential villages for another two years.

Sablan said the main goal of his bill was to give the affected poker owners ample time to find suitable places for their business establishments.

He said poker businesses are finding it difficult to locate new venues because of the increase in economic activity on island.

He said if his bill is passed, the poker arcades will continue to generate revenue for the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance program which provides scholarships for Saipan students.

SHEFA gets $3.7 million a year from the island’s poker arcades.

Sablan pointed out that $3.7 million is a significant amount, and that it’s going to be hard to raise that amount elsewhere. He added that poker arcades are also often targeted by criminals which is related to poor police visibility in the villages.

But other lawmakers linked some of the criminal activity, including drug trafficking, in the villages to the existence of poker arcades.

Senate President Arnold Palacios said it’s time to listen to the voice of the community, adding that a majority of the people want poker arcades out of the villages.

As for SHEFA, he said the delegation should appropriate funding to make sure that students continue to get financial assistance from the program.

Rep Vinnie Sablan said if poker arcades are given an extension now “and after two years they are still not ready to move out, are we going to come back here and propose another extension? We value education, we care for our students, but we also have to look at the issues associated with these poker arcades.”

Rep Edwin Propst said there is still time to look for other ways to fund SHEFA.

Sen. Justo Quitugua said poker establishments are being used by drug dealers.

Sen. Sixto Igisomar wants to know “what the challenges are that [the poker arcades] claim they are facing — are they greater than the concerns of the community members who want these poker establishments out of the villages?”

Rep. Blas Jonathan Attao offered a substitute bill that would impose a 5 percent tax on gaming revenue in the Third Senatorial District by enacting a gambling-revenue tax.

Under Attao’s proposal, SHEFA would be among the recipients of the revenue generated by the 5-percent tax.

Senate President Palacios asked their legal counsel, John Cool, if the proposed substitute bill was still in order. He said the original bill was a rezoning proposal while the substitute bill would impose a new tax.

Attao said his substitute bill was still dealing with the same subject and was not a different bill.

But Cool said the substitute bill was not in compliance with the Open Government Act which required a 72-hour notice.

After a lengthy discussion, all 20 delegation members present decided to vote on the motion to pass the original local measure and the motion to adopt the substitute bill.

Both motions were defeated. The vote on the substitute bill was 8 in favor and 12 against while the vote on H.L.B. 20-12 was six in favor and 14 against.

Voting against the bill were Senate President Palacios, Igisomar, Quitugua, Reps. Angel Demapan, Ivan Blanco, Frank Aguon, Frank Dela Cruz, Donald Barcinas, Joe Itibus, Edwin Propst, Vinnie Sablan, Larry Deleon Guerrero, BJ Attao and House Minority Leader Edmund Villagomez.

Those in favor were Rep. John Paul Sablan, Speaker Ralph Demapan, Vice Speaker Janet Maratita, Reps. Alice Igitol, Joseph Leepan Guerrero and Greg Sablan Jr.

Rep. Joseph Deleon Guerrero was absent during the session on Tuesday which lasted for more than four hours. It started at 10 a.m. and ended at 2:20 pm.

In an interview, Rep. John Paul Sablan said he respects the other members’ decision and wishes the poker arcade owners luck in finding new venues for their businesses.

He is hoping that these poker establishments will continue to do business in the commonwealth.

Source: Marianas Variety :

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