27 Feb 2018
- By Junhan B. Todiño – [email protected] – Variety News Staff
THE Zoning Board denied all 13 applications for extensions of poker operations despite a strong appeal by owners last week.
Based on Saipan Local Law 18-5, poker arcades had until Oct. 25, 2017 to relocate their establishments to certain designated zones for adult gambling machine businesses.
However, board chairman Diego Blanco said once House Local Bill 20-47 Draft 2, which amends Saipan Local Law 19-4 is signed into law, some poker outlets may be allowed to continue to operate, provided they are 200 feet away from schools, laundromats and churches.
The decision came after the board went into a 30-minute, closed-door executive session.
Legal counsels of certain poker establishments raised strong objections, resulting in an exchange of arguments between Blanco and the lawyers.
At one point, Rep. Joseph “Leepan” Guerrero questioned the board’s failure to disclose a reason for its denial of all the requests for extensions.
“I think the owners of the [poker] establishments here are now obligated to pay back for the lease that they’re being paid forward on [by poker operators]. In fairness, they have not been given the chance to be heard,” he told the Board.
Blanco said they will provide the board’s order to each of the clients.
As of press time, Variety had not been furnished copies of the orders.
Guerrero also questioned why newly appointed Patrick V. Reyes voted ‘yes’ to deny the requests for extension since Reyes did not participate in the deliberations of the cases in January’s board meeting.
“I think counsel should consult Reyes regarding his voting because it’s not fair to the clients,” he said.
Mark Scoggins, legal counsel for MGM Poker, asked if the board announced the purpose of going into an executive session prior to the closed-door meeting.
“Did the board make a decision during the executive session on how it’s going to be held?” he asked.
Blanco said they discussed the proposed order by their legal counsel and that the board voted on the order.
Lawyer Robert Torres who represents Winners Life Inc. and Dan B. Choi, which operates SH II Poker, insisted the board did not announce the reason for going into executive session, which is in violation of the Open Government Act.
“It gives no notice about the proceeding of the executive session before adjudication of the old business,” he said. “So your agenda was out of order with respect to your action or your action is out of order with respect to your agenda.”
Torres also pointed out that the agenda gave no notice about any proposed orders.
“Did you decide to convene a public forum? Where did you folks comply with the Open Government Act and deliberate with respect to instructing your counsel or administrator as to any proposed order and what the terms of that proposed order are,” he asked.
Torres argued that if the board had any meeting between January and their meeting on February 21, it was not on record.
“Yet today we have the appearance of the proposed order which was not put on the agenda, no notice of which was given to the applicants for comment and therefore you continue to violate the Open Government Act,” he argued.
Guerrero said he anticipated that poker operators would seek an “audience” with the legislature if the board’s order is final.
“That’s their option, they can go to court or whatever,” Blanco replied, as he also noted the objection of Torres.
Torres said the action of the Board is void because their deliberations and action have not been transparent.
“That is in violation of the legislature’s pronouncement in the Open Government Act that people are entitled to fair and open public records, especially when their property interests are at stake. What’s going on here is you have a member moving for the adoption of a proposed order, which you guys are not discussing so to hear you simply be a rubberstamp for somebody’s direction– that is not fair to the applicants,” he said.
Blanco said Torres’s pronouncement “calling us a rubberstamp was an insult to the board.”
“It’s my objection Mr. Chairman,” Torres replied.
“Well taken,” Blanco said, to which Torres responded: “I don’t think it’s well taken but that’s my objection.”
Torres said the board had given them time to submit its analysis for amortization and justification as part of the requirement of their request for extension.
He said they submitted the analysis prepared by their financial consultant Antonio Muna for the unrecovered basis of investment as of December 31, 2017 and the cost of moving his client’s poker operation.
Torres asked whether or not the board received the amortization analysis prior to convening the executive meeting.
“You just lectured us on violations of the Open Government Act, now you’re telling us to decide to accept your proposal to extend without announcing it to the public,” Blanco said.
In an interview after the hearing, Scoggins said they will look into other options and make their decision within a couple of weeks.
He said he supported Torres arguments against the decision of the board.
As for Torres, he said the legislature should take notice of the violations of the Open Government Act by the Zoning board and due process to the poker operators which the board completely disregarded.
“We look forward to an opportunity for a fair forum, if the judiciary branch is the place for that we will go there because nothing here was fair, nothing complied with the Open Government Act, nothing complied with Public Law 18-5 and it was a complete fiasco,” he said.
He added they will file suit if the board enforces the law.
Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/102536-zoning-board-denies-poker-extension