Camacho: 'There is no solution' for unfinished IPI casino-hotel

CAMACHO: CNMI Rep. Vicente Camacho asks a question during a meeting conducted by the CNMI House Committee on Gaming in the House chamber on Thursday. Emmanuel T. Erediano/For The Guam Daily Post

SAIPAN — "Blow it up into smithereens."

This is what Rep. Vicente Camacho said should be done with Imperial Pacific International's unfinished casino and hotel resort in Garapan, Saipan.

In a meeting with the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands House Committee on Gaming on Thursday, the Commonwealth Casino Commission informed Camacho and other lawmakers that there has been no construction activity at the site since the District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands issued a stop-work order in January after finding IPI and its then-chairwoman in contempt of court.

Earlier this week, Chief Judge Ramona Manglona of the District Court for the NMI granted the request of seven construction workers to sell IPI property to satisfy the $5.4 million judgment against the casino developer.  

On Thursday, Camacho asked Commonwealth Casino Commission Executive Director Andrew Yeom what the commission would do with the unfinished building once IPI's assets have been liquidated.

Yeom said it depends on the fate of IPI's exclusive license. Right now, it is suspended. If the license is revoked, he said the commission will have to move on to offer another one to a new casino investor.

But, he added, "It is up to you, lawmakers, to pass a bill that will allow multiple casino licenses – or kill the industry altogether, that is up to you."

Camacho said, "My plan is to ... put ... dynamite around it and just blow it up into smithereens. Then let us build a memorial for the ancient burial sites and then we can see the ocean. Again."

The Precinct 3 lawmaker said, "There is no solution for that building anymore."

He added, "I don't know if there is anybody who wants to buy that building. It would be too expensive."

Yeom replied, "I think any new investor would have to buy this thing in a very cost-effective way."

Camacho said: "Yeah, I think we should just kill it and dynamite it down. That is what I want done."

Outgoing Commonwealth Casino Commission legal counsel Mike Ernest, who will move to the CNMI Public School System soon, said the commission is more interested in seeing IPI comply with the law, which includes paying its obligations to the CNMI government.

The CNMI House Gaming Committee vice chair, Tina Sablan, asked Yeom if the casino commission is "going to play any role or are you doing anything to examine the future of the industry for the commonwealth and to assist the policymakers in determining what is viable or what the options might be?"

Yeom said the law gives the commission the power to issue another license to a new investor if IPI's license is revoked. "So, certainly, we have a role (in) this," he added.

He noted that even IPI's top officials have told the commission that casino "high rollers are very hard to find these days."

Like many other business establishments on island, IPI's casino shut down in March 2020 at the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Yeom believes that issuing at least three casino licenses will benefit the CNMI economy.

But since potential visitors don't see Saipan as a casino destination, he added, the casino investors to invite are the ones who will primarily market the island's other attractions, such as its golf courses and ocean.

Yeom said investors would focus on the resort side of the development, and the casino would just be a "by the way" amenity that could give the island an edge against competing tourist destinations in the region.

The Gaming Committee chairman, Rep. Edwin Propst, echoed the concerns of a former IPI employee, Vincent Aldan, regarding violations of the CNMI Department of Public Works building code. 

IPI's an unfinished hotel and casino building, he added, and is considered abandoned as described in the building code.

But Propst said, if others worry about the building's structural integrity, "I worry about IPI's integrity."

He said IPI has "the audacity to hire many lawyers and fight it out in the court" even though some of its former workers have never been fully paid, he added.