The government of Saipan has announced that it will not grant new licenses for pachinko, poker, and gaming machines after April 2, 2015 in a bid to make the island free of gambling machines installed near schools and residential areas. However, Representative Roman Benavente is of the opinion that the country’s casino laws need to be amended to include ways to generate the $3 million in poker fees that the Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance (SHEFA) relies on.

Benavente, who heads the house education committee, said: “The casino law does not say where the money for SHEFA will come from after poker machines are gone. Will it be the central government’s responsibility, after realizing revenues from the casino? We need to know.”

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He further said that central government should either direct revenue generated from casinos to SHEFA or clearly state new ways to fund the organization. Every year, around $3 million obtained from fees paid for poker licenses is directed to SHEFA. Revenue generated from Saipan’s brick-and-mortar casinos is used for utilities subsidy, medical referral, the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp, the public school system, and land compensation payments, according to the law.

Fees paid for casino licenses contribute to 25 percent of retiree pension as well as interest paid on withdrawn contributions of beneficiaries.

According to Public Law 18 – 50 and Section 2302 (d) of the state’s casino law, no additional or new licenses for pachinko, poker, and other amusement machines of the kind will be issued after April 2, 2015. This does not include licenses for electronic gaming machines of the type mentioned in 6 CMC 3154 (a) (4). It also becomes illegal to operate pachinko, poker, and other amusement machines outside approved hotels and land casinos.

The law further states: “The licenses issued for poker, pachinko, and similar amusement machines that began its operation prior to April 2, 2015, shall be allowed to continue operation in the Third Senatorial District.”

Benavente says that the law does not clarify if existing machines will have to renew their licenses so that they can continue operating after April 2, 2015 or if they can continue to operating only till their license expires.

Poker machine operators in Saipan need to be aware of yet another law, enacted in Oct 2013. This law requires all poker machines installed within 200ft of parks, schools, playgrounds, churches, and laundry facilities to relocate within the next four years.

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