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Lawmakers may lift moratorium on Saipan poker machines

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TO make up for the projected loss in gambling revenue, House members last week discussed the possibility of lifting the moratorium on poker machines imposed by the Saipan casino law.

Public Law 18-56, which was enacted in July 2014, states that after April 2015, “no new or additional licenses for poker, pachinko, or similar amusement machines, but not including electronic gaming machines, shall be granted or allowed to operate outside of the approved casino establishment.”

At that time, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan said there were over 900 licensed poker machines on Saipan. Since then, he said, the number has been going down because poker arcades that had shut down as a result of Saipan Local Law 18-5 could no longer apply for new licenses due to the moratorium.

S.L.L. 18-5 prohibits poker arcades in residential villages. It restricts “non-conforming adult gambling machine businesses” to adult business parks, tourist resorts, mixed commercial, Garapan core, Garapan east or the Beach Road Zoning districts.

To date, Sablan said there are only about 500 poker machines operating on Saipan.

During an informal meeting to discuss cost-containment and revenue-generating measures, House Gaming Committee Chairman Ralph Yumul brought up the idea of lifting moratoriums on certain business activities, including poker arcades.

Sablan said it could cushion the CNMI from the impact of the casino industry revenue loss.

The floor leader emphasized that the proposed lifting of the moratorium would apply to Saipan only, and to poker machines in areas allowed by law.

“The idea is to allow those businesses to expand, which could generate additional revenue for the government,” he said.

The revenue from casino gambling dropped by over 50 percent in 2018, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce-Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Sablan said this problem was compounded by the drastic decline in tourist arrivals due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

He said the House leadership will continue to discuss measures that could bring in fresh revenue to the Commonwealth.

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