Bootleggers & Baptists
THE Saipan delegation chairman is basically saying that the e-gaming operators should withdraw their lawsuit first before they — the delegation and the e-gaming operators — “negotiate.” Fair enough. But the same thing could be said about the delegation members. They should have, first of all, referred the fee-hike bill to a committee which should have conducted public hearings and sought comments from the affected businesses and other stakeholders. That’s Legislation 101. And it should apply to all bills, particularly those that pertain to taxation/fees, and especially those that will take effect upon approval.
In any case, if the real intent of the fee-hike law or S.L.L. 22-6 is to raise revenue and not shut down businesses and deprive 70 local residents of their jobs, then surely lawmakers would be more than willing to revisit their handiwork and amend it so it can actually raise revenue and not cause unemployment. Lawmakers, after all, are in office because — among many other equally praiseworthy goals — they want to serve the members of the public who include 70 local workers of legal e-gaming establishments.
Now if the intent is to “curtail” gambling — good luck with that — then why pick on two business establishments only? Why not ban gambling outright or impose higher taxes on all gambling establishments including the casino?
The scuttlebutt is that this is yet another “Bootleggers & Baptists” scenario. The “Baptists” support the fee hike because they are opposed to gambling on moral and other virtuous grounds while the “Bootleggers” are those with links to special interests — specifically to investors ready to take over the current e-gaming establishments once they shut down because of S.L.L. 22-6. These investors are “OK” with the higher fees because they no longer have to construct hotels and/or golf ranges that the current e-gaming establishments had to build and/or renovate to be allowed to operate. So “win-win” indeed, but only for the “Bootleggers” and their friends.
Is this the real reason for passing S.L.L. 22-6?
Again, this and other pertinent questions could have been discussed in public hearings that should have been conducted before passing the measure.
The main takeaway
IN an “explosive” interview several weeks ago, the lt. governor told reporters that he didn’t want to “burn bridges, but if I have to burn a bridge, I'll burn a bridge.”
As you read this, the bridge is burning. And that was the most intriguing “development” in Wednesday’s House JGO committee hearing. As members of the Democrat-Independent bloc have been saying for over a year now, they have “boxes of evidence” obtained through the Open Government Act, and it’s an “open-and-shut case” really, etc., etc. So the only thing that was of interest among the political aficionados was how the lt. governor would respond on the record and publicly to the now familiar litany of charges against his erstwhile pollical ally, the governor.
At any rate, it is still, in the end, a political issue with voters as the ultimate jury and judge; but now with the lt. governor’s testimony, the CNMI’s political landscape has shifted further and, truth be told, is now more riveting even for jaded observers of local politics.
To be sure, a lot of things — some of them unexpected — can still happen before next year’s elections, but today, here’s a possible 2022 scenario: in the gubernatorial race, a Republican will run against a former Republican.