The Executive Director of the Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC), the gaming regulatory body of the Northern Mariana Islands, has attributed the comparatively enormous VIP rolling chip volumes running through Imperial Pacific International’s (IPI) Saipan casino to Macau operators failing to report real VIP numbers.
Edward Deleon Guerrero made the claim in response to an explosive Bloomberg article published earlier this week alleging widespread corruption among government officials and near zero oversight of IPI’s operations.
Imperial Pacific, which beat out one rival bidder to be awarded Saipan’s casino license in August 2014, reported VIP volume of US$32.4 billion in 2016 on just 16 VIP tables at temporary casino Best Sunshine Live, including a record US$3.95 billion in September 2016 – well above the volumes recorded by Macau’s largest casinos. The company has since relocated casino operations to its new Imperial Pacific Resort and has also stopped reporting monthly VIP roll.
Revealing written responses to media on Thursday that he had previously sent as a reply Bloomberg’s inquiries, Deleon Guerrero blamed tax avoidance schemes in other jurisdictions and cited IPI’s “strong network in the VIP market” – stemming from its stake in Macau junket Hengsheng Group – for the inflated Saipan numbers.
“The CCC notes that the rolling volume is large,” he said. “The commonwealth has a low tax structure which the CCC believes dis-incentivizes the tax avoidance schemes believed to be prevalent elsewhere which keep reported volumes lower than actual.
“Other possible contributing factors to Saipan witnessing a very high volume of gambling operations on a per-table basis may be due to combinations of the following factors: IPI’s ownership stems from one of the largest junkets in Macau, it thus has a very strong network in the VIP market; due to strong ties to VIP patrons; China’s anti-corruption campaign has diversified VIP patrons to a new place around the Asia Pacific region such as Saipan and the visa-waiver program available for Chinese players has eased their trips into Saipan.”
Deleon Guerrero also stood by the validity of IPI’s numbers, stating “the numbers being reported are true. The CCC has a full-time Audit and Compliance Division that reviews the daily rolling transactions. The reported gaming activities and more specifically the rolling volumes are true figures.”
Among the allegations made by Bloomberg are that IPI’s influence in Saipan is made possible by close ties to Governor Ralph Torres, who is the nephew of Deleon Guerrero. It also notes that the CCC itself is funded by an annual US$3 million payment by Imperial Pacific.
In response, Delon Guerrero said, “It is safe to assume that IPI’s financial success in its business operations is in the best interest of the CNMI and its people. In this regard, it is reasonable to expect that all CNMI residents have a financial stake in IPI’s success.”
IPI had previously been found to be employing illegal Chinese workers for construction of Imperial Pacific Resort via contractor MCC. MCC has since been replaced, with IPI now pushing to meet an August 2018 deadline for completion of hotel facilities under a new contractor.