After hearing an appeal from two former members of the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission, the Supreme Court For The Commonwealth Of The Northern Mariana Islands has now retired to consider its ruling.
According to a report from the Marianas Variety newspaper, Lucia Blanco-Maratita and Lisa-Marie Aguon sued the gaming authority last year arguing that the American territory’s constitution prohibits local authorities from amending the revised Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act, which has been in force since November of 1989. The pair contended that area laws passed in 2004, 2013 and 2014 represented “encroachments” by Tinian mayor Joey San Nicolas and others and should be ruled invalid.
Blanco-Maratita, who previously served as Executive Director for the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission, and former inspector Aguon lost there original case in front of the Superior Court For The Commonwealth Of The Northern Mariana Islands in December but immediately appealed to the Supreme Court For The Commonwealth Of The Northern Mariana Islands.
At issue is Tinian local laws 14-1 and 18-5, which amended the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act, and Tinian ordinance 18-3, which prohibits the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission from raising the salaries of any employees beyond prescribed rates.
The Saipan Tribune reported that law 14-1 enacted provisions “to
regulate the building and licensing of a hotel casino in phases, to authorize and regulate the employment in the casino of persons over the age of 18 years, to reduce the casino license application fee, to reduce the penalties for fees and taxes, to authorize the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission to waive or defer payment of such penalties, to permit and regulate credit wages and for other purposes” while 18-5 was passed “for the purpose of updating the casino gambling tax to adapt to Asia-style gaming and to boost the Asian high-roller gaming market”.
In their 32-page brief submitted to the Pacific Ocean territory’s highest court in May, the appellants stated that the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission has become increasingly assertive over recent years in acting on its own perceived right to amend the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act. They moreover added that San Nicolas has adopted and acted on a new interpretation of the terms of commissioners, which allows him to rapidly replace incumbent commissioners with his own appointees.
The 26-page reply from the defendants argued through counsel Matthew Gregory that the Supreme Court For The Commonwealth Of The Northern Mariana Islands should uphold the lower court’s decision because the plaintiffs lacked the standing to raise issues relating to the terms of commissioners. In addition, the appellees claimed that Article XXI of the constitution for the former Spanish and German possession does not prevent the passage of area laws that would amend or modify a local initiative. Gregory described the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Act as a local law that was passed following a local initiative and, as such, could be amended Tinian officials.