A judge sitting in Saipan (pictured) has extended until further notice a temporary restraining order preventing public officials in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands – a Pacific territory of the United States – from either denying or approving the issuance of the jurisdiction’s first licence for an integrated casino resort.
But Superior Court Associate Judge David A. Wiseman turned down a separate motion for a preliminary injunction that would have effectively frozen all government activity regarding the casino initiative.
Meanwhile the temporary restraining order granted on Friday to Marianas Stars Entertainment Inc, one of two bidders for a casino licence, and which was due to expire on June 29, will continue.
Lawyers for Marianas Stars say agents linked to the other licence bidder, Best Sunshine International Ltd – a British Virgin Islands firm wholly owned by Macau junket investor First Natural Foods Holdings Ltd – “illegally” provided benefits to at least four local lawmakers in exchange for their support on a new casino law.
The judge said that the public interest in ensuring avoidance of any corruption and of preventing government officials exceeding their authority would be better served by – if necessary as part of the disposal of the case – paying compensatory damages to cover the US$400,000 cost of hiring consultants to investigate the licence applicants.
Local attorney Ramon K. Quichocho, who is also challenging the casino licensing process via the courts, had asked for the more restrictive legal remedy of a preliminary injunction.
Saipan, covering 115.4 square kilometres (44.6 sq. miles) is the biggest of the Northern Mariana Islands, and would be the location of any casino resort if approved. The government has said it expects a “minimum US$2 billion” investment.
Both bidders were required to pay a US$1 million non-refundable application fee as part of the process. Each was also required to pay US$30 million as a refundable deposit into a government escrow account.
On Friday morning prior to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange opening, First Natural announced that trade in its shares was being suspended. Later in the morning the firm said the reason was “pending the release of an announcement in relation to inside information of the company regarding the application for the Casino Resort Developer Licence for the Island of Saipan”. The shares remained suspended as of the close of market business on Tuesday.
Prior to suspension, its shares were valued at 57 HK cents (0.74 US cents). The firm currently has a market capitalisation of HK$4.56 billion.
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”Given that the blanket casino closure [in Macau due to Typhoon Mangkhut] happened on an all-important weekend day… we expect that somewhere between MOP1.1 billion [US$136.2 million] and MOP1.5 billion in GGR will be lost”
Analyst at Union Gaming Securities Asia