Gov. Eloy S. Inos is under a lot of pressure from NMI Retirement Fund acting administrator Lillian M. Pangelinan about a newly passed Poker license bill. The bill was recently adopted by The Saipan and Northern Islands Legislative Delegation and it appropriates $3.3 million from the renewal of poker licenses to Saipan Higher Education Financial Assistance and a host of community projects; $3 million to SHEFA and another $300,000 for various projects and activities to be exact.
Lillian M. Pangelinan sent a letter to Gov. Eloy S. Inos last Friday requesting that this legislation be disapproved in its entirety and asked that the Executive Branch and the Fund jointly request that the Legislature repeal Public Law 17-85 so the Fund can receive the poker fees generated from all senatorial districts.
Pangelinan said “Although it may seem paltry in light of the Fund’s payment of over $70 million a year in benefits, the additional $3.3 million from Saipan can quickly add up when aggregated with the amounts that Rota and Tinian generate in poker fees.”
She added that every dollar set aside for the Fund is a dollar closer to ensuring the continuation of benefit payments to the Fund members. Experts are not very optimistic about the program´s future; due to the limited portfolio value of the pension plan, experts have projected the program’s life span to up only in March 2014.
Pangelinan cited the provisions of the Poker Machine Act of 1986 and said “Act provided that the director of finance shall reserve 90 percent of all revenues raised from the licensing of amusement machines under 4 CMC Section 1504(a)(2) for the Northern Mariana Islands Retirement Fund and shall promptly deposit such revenues with the Commonwealth Treasury without further appropriation.”
“Our children and community must be proved support and encouragement so we may all prosper. However, with the emergencies facing our utilities, hospital, and pension program, we must all seriously tighten our belts. Although SHEFA provides much needed financial assistance to our children as they pursue higher education, other financial assistance is available such as the CNMI Scholarship program, various federal educational loans and grants, and grants and scholarships from private organizations,” she added.
The HLB 18-9 seeks to provide, on top of $3 million for SHEFA, substantial amounts to SHEFA operation ($100,000); Saipan Little League ($20,000); Flame Tree Arts Festival ($15,000); agricultural fair ($5,000); Saipan Fishing Derby ($5,000); Spear Fishing Association ($3,000); Liberation Day festivities ($15,000); and SNILD operational funds ($20,000).
“Although each earmarked project has important functions, not one is more important than the NMI Retirement Fund-or is in as much dire need for infusion of capital,” said Pangelinan, adding that in order for its members to continue to receive their benefits beyond March next year, the Fund requires a substantial cash infusion.
This debate about how poker income should be spent in this small island of CommonWealth of Northern Mariana Islands can actually teach our governments a lot about the opportunites that lay in front of them. Legalizing and taxing online poker and gambling in general will create a vital source of income for many local administrations and this many can be used for the good of the public. A few states like Nevada and New Jersey already noticed this and took the lead, now it is only time for other states to open their eyes and follow the sensible path of legalizing online gambling.