The Saipan House of Representatives voted 13-7 to legalize casino gambling on the island after an eight-hour debate to raise funds for the US territory’s pension agency which is projected to run out of money next March. Legislators rejected arguments that legalization could turn off visitors from Japan, the island’s biggest tourist market, and voted down amendments that would have reserved one license for local investors and turned the role of casino commissioners into unpaid positions.
They approved amendments requiring the closure of poker machine parlors within a year of the granting of casino licenses and eliminating the possibility of an exclusive casino license. Instead, up to three 10-year licenses will be available for $30 million each. The bill now goes to the Saipan Senate which rejected a legalization plan two years ago. The House sent a separate bill to the Senate last month on a 14-1 vote that would legalize electronic table games in Saipan hotels with at least 100 rooms or a golf course.