Posted on: November 2, 2022, 11:09h. 

Last updated on: November 2, 2022, 12:44h.

Imperial Pacific International (IPI) continues to try to keep from losing its casino exclusivity in Saipan. It’s making progress as it pays off some of its multimillion-dollar debt linked to the Imperial Palace casino. That’s in hopes that the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) shows leniency.

Imperial Palace casino
The Imperial Palace casino in Saipan appears with construction equipment that’s not currently in use. The company behind the casino, Imperial Pacific International, continues to face issues as it tries to keep its exclusivity. (Image: RNZ)

IPI recently came into a lot of money – over $6 million – that it thought would prevent a series of auctions of its assets. That didn’t happen, but the company continues to chip away at its mountain of debt.

The $6 million settled a lawsuit involving seven workers who sued IPI over deplorable living and working conditions. Attorney Aaron Halegua, who represented the individuals, confirmed the settlement, bringing to an end a case involving 71 criminal indictments. That only eliminated one of many issues the company faces.

IPI Continues Roller-Coaster Ride

Andrew Yeom, the executive director of the CNMI’s Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC), recently confirmed that IPI has caught up with its outstanding payroll. Although the casino operator only has a small contingent of employees, they have repeatedly faced delays when it came time to receive their pay.

Yeom also pointed out that the settlement of the outstanding payroll only covers active employees. IPI still owes a number of terminated employees back pay, although the amount is a topic of debate.

The embattled casino operator is also working without a CEO, according to Yeom. It has an “executive assistant to the CEO” in Billy Lam, and an “assistant to the CEO” in Steven Liang, but no one to whom they report. This could be a violation of the company’s license agreement with the CNMI.

IPI is living on borrowed time in other ways, too. It owes the CNMI government hundreds of millions of dollars, and just racked up another bill that could lead to it losing the land under Imperial Palace.

The Saipan Tribune reported recently that the CNMI Department of Public Lands (DPL) is waiting for $263,595 in outstanding rent. The rent is for the land upon which the casino was built. If IPI doesn’t pay within 30 days, the DPL could terminate the lease.

The second auction of Imperial Palace assets is now underway. Clear Management Ltd, as a court-appointed receiver, is selling equipment to reduce IPI’s debt. It’s offering slot machines, gaming tables, and more, and the final day for this round of six auctions is December 9.

IPI faces a separate $27M lawsuit over “discriminatory hiring practices.” A former employee filed the suit, adding that he suffered emotional distress and reputational harm. IPI has asked the courts to throw out the suit.

Competition for the Shuttered Resort

IPI said earlier this year that it was working on receiving a large injection of funds. It was also negotiating a deal that would allow it to sell some of its resort accommodations to an independent company.

That sale would allow it to reduce its debt, but the amount IPI said it would earn would only be possible if 100% of the units it sold were subsequently occupied 365 days a year. That isn’t a realistic scenario, and the opening of a new resort would make it even more difficult.

The Crowne Plaza Resort just held its opening on October 31. It offers 422 rooms and five restaurants, and the entire property is under the management of global hotel brand IHG Hotels & Resorts.

What the resort doesn’t have, however, is a casino. Given the continued issues plaguing IPI, now is a good time for the CNMI to once again seriously reconsider the company’s gaming exclusivity.