Posted on: November 15, 2022, 12:23h. 

Last updated on: November 15, 2022, 02:23h.

Imperial Pacific International (IPI) believes it still has what it takes to be a legitimate casino operator. It’s so confident, in fact, that it’s starting to make plans to relaunch its Imperial Palace casino in Saipan next year.

Imperial Palace casino
Traffic signals appropriately steer traffic away from the entrance to the Imperial Palace casino in Saipan. Casino operator Imperial Pacific International believes it can reopen the casino next year, despite owing hundreds of millions in outstanding fees and lawsuits. (Image: RNZ)

In a filing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on November 11, IPI said it had proposed adjustments to the gaming regulations of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). These guidelines are the same ones that the company has been accused of breaking repeatedly over the past few years.

IPI suggests replacing its annual licensing fee, for which it owes hundreds of millions of dollars, with a gaming fee based on a portion of its net profits. This would also include set minimums and maximums. The Commonwealth Casino Commission (CCC) is still reviewing the proposed changes.

Uphill Battle for Control

IPI also wants to create two regulatory sections, one for its casino and another for its hotel. It also wants a waiver of license fees for the past two years, as well as a lower amount at the end of the license term.

Negotiations for an agreement were held this past summer between IPI and the CCC. They ended in August with no progress. The regulator initiated the process to revoke the operator’s license because of its continued inability to fulfill its obligations. But the CNMI court system continues to give IPI more leeway.

IPI hasn’t been able to fulfill its licensing responsibilities. This includes missing annual payments for its license exclusivity, as well as regulatory and other fees. It announced in May that it had signed a Memorandum of Agreement with South Korea’s IH Group for funding. But that has yet to materialize.

The CCC hasn’t yet agreed to the above proposals, which could cost the CNMI around $100 million if it accepts the deal. Negotiations are ongoing, and the CCC will respond in writing when it reaches a decision.

A Naked Casino

Should the CCC decide to cut a deal and allow IPI to open its doors next year, it will do so without a lot of its gaming equipment. Attempts to call off asset auctions continue to fail, which means Clear Management Ltd will proceed with its second sale next month.

IPI came in after the first auction and paid off some of its debt, a sign it said showed that it was fulfilling its obligations. As a result, it wanted a CNMI court judge to halt the next five planned auctions.

CNMI Chief Judge Ramona Manglona disagreed. Because of the size of the debt and the lack of significant progress to remove it, he said there was just cause to allow the sales to continue.

The next auction is coming on December 9. IPI has now approached the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to find some relief. The company’s lawyer filed an emergency motion for a stay of the process this week.

The CCC contacted the court, as well. Three weeks ago, it asked it to rule on its attempt to revoke IPI’s license. Rulings on both petitions are still pending.