SAIPAN — Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres wants to know if Sen. Paul Manglona has a "solution" to the budget crunch the CNMI may face next year as it tries to comply with the federal-court-mandated payments to the NMI Settlement Fund.

Torres said making sure that the retirees got their pension benefits was the reason the Inos-Hofschneider administration and the 18th Legislature decided to legalize casino gaming in Saipan in 2014. At that time, Torres was the Senate president.

"When we decided to take on this industry, that was the reason. It was to provide resources for our retirees," the governor said.

In 2017, the NMI Settlement Fund trustee reported to the federal court that the CNMI government was "able to make the weekly $1 million payments, in part, because of the increased casino (gross revenue tax) ... collected in 2016 and 2017. The casino GRT has developed into a primary source of revenue for the government."

Asked on Friday about Sen. Manglona's comment regarding an alternative funding source for the $40 million minimum annual payment to the Settlement Fund now that the exclusive casino license for Imperial Pacific International is likely to be revoked, Gov. Torres pointed out that that the senator had opposed the Saipan casino legalization bill.

Torres also reiterated that Manglona's concern has always been the concern of the administration and many lawmakers.

The governor added that the administration continues to seek alternatives to the casino gaming industry.

"Along the way, we've continued to say, 'If it's not this industry, then can you please come up with another industry that (will pay) our retirees?'  

"We passed the gaming bill in hopes that if this is successful, that this will pay for the (retirees' pension), and it was paying the retirees for the last several years. My question to Sen. Paul is what is his solution now that the gaming commission's going to terminate the gaming license of IPI?"

IPI is facing several lawsuits filed by former vendors or employees in federal and local courts, and at least four complaints filed by the Commonwealth Casino Commission.

IPI's casino has been closed since March 2020 following the onset of the global COVID-19 pandemic.