Saipan Casino Misses Another Major Deadline

Map of Saipan island
Imperial Pacific International’s casino project in Saipan has hit yet another delay.

30-second summary

  • Imperial Pacific International Holdings is building a $7bn casino in Saipan
  • The project has missed several deadlines since construction began
  • Because of a new US policy, they have lost most of their laborers
  • Now it looks as if the casino may not be finished this year

Background to this casino

Saipan is the largest of the Northern Marianas Islands, a commonwealth of the United States in the Pacific Ocean. Imperial Pacific International Holdings, a well-known casino group from Hong Kong, began planning a major casino development on Saipan in 2014.

The company already operates the sole casino on the island. In the first half of 2018, the casino’s revenues dropped by 51%.

The casino has not yet collected nearly $1.4bn (£1.06bn) in high-roller debt. This figure is much higher than you would see with the high rollers playing at the top casinos in Macau. There were also problems paying the staff’s wages in August 2018.

In September 2018, four junket operators were given the green light by the Saipan authorities. Imperial focuses primarily on attracting high rollers from China. The casino has been in operation since 2015 and has proven to be a great thing for the island as a whole.

Constant delays

The original cost estimate for International Pacific International Casino project in Saipan was $7bn, and its initial deadline for completion was August 31, 2018.

However, the company put in a request to the Commonwealth Casino Commission to push the completion date to December 2018. Now it looks as if it could be a struggle to finish the work in 2019.

Many believed that the casino would be fully open this year, but the project has suffered major setbacks, including the loss of a large number of laborers in January. It is believed that they lost 500 workers and now have just 300 workers who are trying to get this multi-billion dollar casino up and running.

The company is now seeking another extension from the commission. It is unclear what stance the commission will take on this issue.

Why they lost so many workers

The main reason for the loss of so many workers was a new US policy prohibiting workers from the Philippines from getting H-2B work permits.

Most of the workers for the project traveled over from the Philippines, which is 1,700 miles from Saipan. Of course, this issue is out of the casino company’s hands. However, the patience of the commission is surely growing thin. They are now asking for monthly progress reports on the status of the project.

The company’s vice president of construction, Eric Poon Poon, was at the commission’s monthly meeting to discuss the delays. He said: “We hope things won’t get any worse; we’re hoping we can get H-2B [skilled] workers from the Philippines back as soon as possible. It depends on the approval of the US government, and we are also working with the CNMI government closely with this.”

Some are still hoping that there will be changes to this new US policy, allowing things to go back to normal. Imperial Pacific International Holdings is talking with the US government about the new restrictions. If there is no change, they will have to find workers from other countries.

Of course, per the policy, they can only get them from nations whose workers are allowed to use these work permits, such as India or Mongolia. If there is no change in the policy, experts believe that the project will not be finished by the end of the year.