Saipan casino opens today
Hong Kong investor rolls billion-dollar dice
By Andrew Roberto and Gaynor D. Daleno
ROLLING THE DICE: Casino operations for the Imperial Pacific casino at the Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel are slated to begin today. Norman M. Taruc/The Guam Daily Post
Guam’s island neighbor about 135 miles to the north – Saipan – is expected to see the casino part of a billion-dollar resort and hotel project open today, amid the watchful eyes of investors and in the wake of federal indictments related to the project’s construction.
The investor, Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific International, operated a temporary casino facility within the T-Galleria – a short walk from the new site – since 2015, and that facility is set to move to its permanent location in the Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel today.
The casino is part of Imperial Pacific International’s ongoing development of an integrated hotel and resort in Saipan, the capital of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Raided by the FBI in April
The casino drew national attention in April when the FBI raided the offices for some of the construction subcontractors for the project. Investigators found hundreds of Chinese workers – who came in as visitors through a visa-waiver program – working at the hotel and resort construction site, according to court documents.
The raid was prompted by the fatal fall of a man from China who entered as a tourist but was working at the construction site, documents filed by prosecutors in federal court show.
Saipan has also drawn attention because the temporary casino’s VIP tables handled just under $3 billion in bets in March, the company said on April 2, as reported by financial news agency Bloomberg in April. That amount was up from $1.67 billion a month earlier – a robust figure even compared to some of the casinos in Las Vegas.
Imperial Pacific’s parent is publicly listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its chairman, Mark Brown, is a former executive with Donald Trump’s casinos, according to the company’s annual report.
The company has adopted comprehensive anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financial controls, its annual report stated.
The company also highlighted the hiring of the “former Director of the Central Intelligence of United States of America, Mr. Robert James Woolsey … as an independent non-executive director of the company,” according to a report to investors released in March this year.
Listed in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, the investor’s parent entity, Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., reported gross revenue of almost $1 billion, and gross profit of $410 million, even when it was operating out of a temporary storefront location.
The company calls Saipan a “gaming tax haven.”
By CNMI Public Law 18-56, Imperial Pacific is required to build a hotel with at least 2,000 rooms, and pay the CNMI government $15 million a year over 40 years as part of an exclusive license fee. Additionally, Imperial Pacific also must pay $3 million in annual regulatory fees.
According to Commonwealth Casino Commission Executive Director Edward Deleon Guerrero, Imperial Pacific has been paying millions into the Commonwealth Treasury every month. He adds that the exclusive casino licensee regularly spends $25 million to $65 million on vendors every month as well. According to Deleon Guerrero, all funds going in and out of Imperial Pacific are tracked by the commission.
Construction ongoing at resort
Imperial Pacific will be moving 40 gaming tables from the temporary casino location in the T-Galleria into the nearby resort, which is still under construction.
“When it is finished, the Imperial Pacific Resort will boast 11 restaurants – with a total of 17 Michelin Stars – in addition to the 193 gaming tables and 365 slot machines which will substantially increase the company’s gaming capacity from its current level of 48 tables and 141 slot machines at the temporary facility,” Imperial Pacific stated in March.
Of the 1,000 employees who work for Imperial Pacific in Saipan, 65 percent are U.S. citizens.
According to Deleon Guerrero, those employees cater mostly to Chinese visitors. He said 90 percent of all revenue generated by Imperial Pacific’s casinos comes from VIP guests from China, who enter the CNMI under a visa-waiver program.
The hotel and resort part of the casino project is set to be completed in 2017.