The Superior Court of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has found that the Commonwealth Casino Commission was justified in suspending the casino license of Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC last April.
The court’s decision, handed down by Superior Court Associate Judge Wesley Bogdan on Tuesday, comes after IPI called for a judicial review into the suspension, claiming a “difference of opinion” over the reasons behind its failure to pay its annual license fee. In particular, IPI had argued that it was not liable to pay the fee due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which it claimed should be counted as a natural disaster under a force majeure clause in its Casino License Agreement. The company’s Saipan casino, Imperial Palace‧Saipan, has been closed since 17 March 2020 due to the pandemic.
Instead, Judge Bogdan ruled that the licenses suspension was “not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion [or] not in accordance with the law, as the CCC did not consider, determine or reasonably base that order upon the appropriate application of principles of force majeure under Commonwealth law.”
The judge noted that IPI had, for reasons unknown, failed to present a force majeure defense during meetings with the regulator in the weeks leading up to the license suspension and that the CCC had therefore not applied this defence to its decision. He also noted that the CCC may have erred in not doing so but this did not mean its decision was in error, due to a range of other factors.
“Ultimately, the Casino Commission’s decision with respect to these violations is not connected to the force majeure defense [IPI] raised before the Casino Commission,” he said.
“This conclusion finds support, aside from non-payment of the Community Benefit Fund and Annual License Fee payments, as there were equally critical determinations made on the record … concerning [IPI’s] viability as an on-going business and the very real question of whether the unfinished gambling facility in Garapan will ever be completed.”
As previously reported by IAG, the CCC suspended IPI’s license in April 2021 following a series of complaints against it for failure to comply with certain requirements under its license agreement.
Those complaints related to IPI’s failure to pay its annual US$15.5 million license fee last August, failure to pay its annual US$3.1 million regulatory fee in October, failure to contribute US$20 million to the community benefit fund in both 2018 and 2019, failure to comply with its minimum US$2 billion capital requirement and failure to comply with a CCC order to pay all money owing to its vendors.
IPI was also given six months from April to repay both the US$15.5 million casino license fee and US$3.1 million regulatory fee, as well as a US$6.6 million fine, or risk having its license revoked.
The CCC is expected to make a decision on whether to revoke IPI’s license before the end of the month.