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Saipan Casino Gets Another Extension, Possible Reprieve

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Saipan Casino Gets Another Extension, Possible Reprieve

Saipan is a gorgeous island where an ugly casino tale is unfolding.Imperial Pacific Internatioal Holdings

Saipan’s casino story, already depressing, has gotten worse. Licensee Imperial Pacific International has a new, distant deadline for completion of its casino hotel and maybe a pass on the rest of its US$2 billion obligation to Saipan, a U.S. Pacific territory in the Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands. Even with its larger gaming floor and a monopoly, Imperial Pacific hasn’t demonstrated it can run a profitable casino, and three key executives have left since August without announced replacements. Despite these deficiencies, the government wants IPI to take over a hotel the authorities put out of business two weeks ago. The most sensible thing about this situation? IPI’s Hong Kong listed shares are down 50% over the past year.

After a one year extension granted last year, IPI missed the August 31 deadline to complete its 329 room beachfront hotel in Garapan, Saipan’s downtown tourist hub. IPI moved its casino from a shopping mall to the partially completed property, designed by Paul Steelman and now called Imperial Pacific Resort Hotel, in July last year. But guest room construction has lagged amid alleged illegal labor, unpaid wages and worker injuries, including at least one fatality.

Last month, the Commonwealth Casino Commission extended the deadline for IPI to complete its Garapan property to February 28, 2021. There was no apparent consideration of finding another company that might do a better job, perhaps because IPI is too big to fail given its contribution to CNMI’s budget and public officials’ invested political capital. The CCC didn’t completely let IPI off the hook: the company must donate US$500,000 to the local hospital authority, and if it misses the new deadline, it faces a US$5,000 per day fine, less one-half of 1% of IPI’s gaming revenue.

Imperial Pacific International has through February 2021 to complete its Paul Steelman designed beachfront hotel in Saipan.Imperial Pacific International Holdings

Of course, revenue isn’t profit. For the first half of this year, its first full filing period in the new casino, IPI reported gaming revenue of HK$2.2 billion (US$281 million), down from HK$4.5 billion a year ago. It also reported HK$13.7 billion in unpaid player debt and wrote off HK$5.8 billion of it, after writing off HK$4.7 billion a year earlier.

Perhaps unsurprisingly in the wake of those results, IPI has shed top executives. In early August, Marco Teng stepped down as chairman of IPI’s Saipan operating subsidiary. On August 20, Cai Lingli stepped down as IPI’s executive director and chair of its executive committee. Henry Cheang, who became IPI’s third CEO of 2017, following Mark Brown, who opened Venetian Macao for Sheldon Adelson after a stint as president and CEO of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts, and seasoned Macau hand Kwong Yiu-ling.

These moves suggest Ji Xiaobo, the former executive of junket promoter Heng Sheng Group dubbed the Saipan project’s mastermind, remains firmly in command. Ji’s mother, Cui Lijie, owns 63% of IPI, upping her stake by a half billion shares this year. Additionally, related parties have loaned IPI HK$180 million.

Imperial Pacific has VIPs sleeping on yachts due to Saipan's scarcity of hotel rooms.Imperial Pacific International Holdings

IPI’s Saipan monopoly license came with the requirement to invest in $2 billion and build 2,000 hotel rooms, virtually doubling the island’s available accommodation. Those requirements, along with the lack of any meaningful local market and publicity for the licensing competition through the Witness Protection Program, cleared the way for IPI to win the license in the absence of credible competition.

IPI declared it wouldn’t invest US$2 billion but US$7 billion, once it obtained a site for its putative integrated resort. In 2015, the government announced the legal but rare step of not renewing the lease of Mariana Resort, Saipan’s last Japanese owned major hotel, instead putting the land out for public tender. In 2016, the government awarded IPI the 1,600 hectare site but they’ve never signed a lease.

Last month, CCC Executive Director Edward DeLeon Guerrero told a local newspaper Saipan doesn’t need 2,000 more hotel rooms. “I don’t think the CNMI could accommodate 2 million visitors a year, and I don’t think we have the capability to construct 2,000 rooms.”

An IPI spokesperson echoed the first sentiment: “At this moment, we may not need to have an additional thousands of rooms due to the number of incoming visitors, but with the ongoing development of Saipan and the continuing efforts through various publicity channels, we are positive that more hotel rooms are needed for the tourism market.”

Saipan lost 114 rooms plus 141 jobs, a destination spa and hilltop golf course overlooking the sea on September 30 when Marianas Resort closed its doors. Its land lease expired, and authorities didn’t offer it a two and a half year extension. Governor Ralph DeLeon Guerrero Torres is backing a belated IPI effort to take over the property, a quest mired in red tape as Torres seeks election to a new term. That neither public officials nor IPI prepared adequately for the Marinas lease expiry underscores the rank incompetence of Saipan’s entire casino effort.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHCCa5aGTAxCWJdlDxLMxTee_gkbg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&ei=BGjDW9idMoTlhQHRuJT4Cg&url=https://www.forbes.com/sites/muhammadcohen/2018/10/14/failure-in-paradise-saipan-casino-gets-another-extension-possible-reprieve/

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