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House passes internet gaming bill

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QUESTIONS were raised in the House of Representatives session on Tuesday regarding House Bill 21-31, which would legalize internet gaming in the CNMI.

Introduced by Vice Speaker Larry Deleon Guerrero, the bill was passed by the House — 11 in favor and 8 against — and now goes to the Senate.

Among those who were against its passage was Rep. Sheila Babauta who expressed concern over potential social and health impacts that internet gaming would have on the CNMI.

She asked Rep. Ralph Yumul, the chair of the House Gaming Committee, whether there were studies on the possible social and health impact of internet gaming.

Yumul said no studies were made, but he added that any concerns will be addressed in another bill and the regulations themselves.

Babauta said gambling addiction on top of the effects of the austerity measures could lead to a rise in domestic violence and other crimes.

She said internet gaming would allow individuals to “gamble within the comforts of their own homes,” which could negatively impact families, she added.

The bill, she added, could also “hurt” the Saipan gaming industry.

But Yumul said that the Saipan casino investor, Imperial Pacific International, did not oppose the bill during a public hearing in June 2019.

Then-IPI chief executive officer Mark Brown told lawmakers that the casino investor was “very much in favor of online gaming.”

It was also noted that an internet gaming is already allowed on Tinian, but Rep. Antonio SN Borja stated that internet gaming is “not fully operational” on Tinian.

Speaker Blas Jonathan T. Attao said internet gaming is allowed by the Tinian casino law, but it is unclear whether the same can be said of Rota where casino gaming is also legal under a local law.

Like Babauta, Rep. Janet U. Maratita said she does not support H.B. 21-31, adding that it would “open a can of worms.” She added that she also did not support casino legalization on Saipan.

Rep. Mario T. Peter reiterated that there will be regulations once the bill becomes law, adding that “there is an interest in setting up hubs.”

This could generate revenue for the CNMI, he said.

According to Peter, it is possible to block CNMI servers from accessing these hubs.

He was among those who voted in favor of the bill.

Before the House vote, Rep. Babauta said: “Social impact…mental health…are so important to me. What are we teaching our children? That this is the only way we can make money?”

Also voting no on the bill were House Minority Leader Edwin Propst, Reps. Richard Lizama, Edmund Villagomez, Donald Manglona, Joseph Flores, Janet Maratita, and Antonio Borja.

Those who voted yes were Speaker Attao, Vice Speaker Deleon Guerrero, House Floor Leader John Paul Sablan, Reps. Roman Benavente, Marco Peter, Joseph Leepan Guerrero, Jose Itibus, Ivan Blanco, Joel Camacho, Luis John Castro, and Ray Yumul.

Rep. Tina Sablan was excused.

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