Saipan’s Office of the Public Auditor has opposed to a proposed piece of gambling legislation under which casino financial information would be made confidential.
The measure, called House Bill 21-11, has been filed at the House Committee by Vice Speaker Lorenzo I. Deleon Guerero for about a year now. The proposed piece of legislation is set to provide the Commonwealth Casino Commission with larger powers, but it will also provide certain records and information of the Commission with special exemption from the Open Government Act.
However, in a written comment submitted to the House Committee on Gaming, Saipan’s Public Auditor Mike Pai explained that in his opinion some of the bill’s provisions would deteriorate public transparency when it comes to regulation of the only casino operator. This, on the other hand, could gradually destroy both public accountability and trust in the gambling sector.
According to Mr. Pai, the new provisions aim at undermining public access to information regarding the casino operators’ financial statements. As he explained, access to such information is currently provided under the existing legislation as recognized in a recently-announced decision of the US District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI).
Gambling has been recognized by the Federal Court as a highly-regulated industry, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Legislature was clear that companies which hold gambling operating licenses would not be granted an expectation of privacy in the seven categories of information exempted in the casino legislation of Saipan.
Gambling Regulator Seeks Powers of a Law Enforcement Agency
Last month, it became clear that gambling regulators in the CNMI are seeking new legal enforcement powers. At the time, the Chairman and the Executive Director of the Commonwealth Casino Commission addressed the House Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations in a letter, providing their support for the proposed HB21-11 bill.
Reportedly, the regulator is calling the Committee to grant it with the powers of a law enforcement agency so that it is able to investigate gambling-related criminal activity, conduct criminal background checks of licensed gambling operators and to have law enforcement rights in accordance to the Saipan’s gambling laws.
Previously, Ralph Yumul, Chairman of the House Gaming Committee, has revealed that many provisions in the House Bill 21-11 have been introduced as separate bills, which include public access to casino information. Mr. Yumul further explained that the Committee would not leave the government agencies and community groups’ concerns unaddressed before taking any further actions on these measures.
The HB21-11 has also been backed by the Saipan Chamber of Commerce, which says that the CCC should not only be defined but also the Commission needs to be provided some autonomy from possible political inference.