Hong Kong-backed Best Sunshine International has won a license to build a $2 billion integrated resort on the island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands.
The Lottery Commission awarded the license by a vote of 4-0, the Saipan Tribune reported.
“The Lottery Commission of the CNMI has awarded the Applicant the Casino Resort Developer License authorized under CNMI Public Law 18–56, conditional upon agreement between the CNMI and the applicant on license terms and conditions,” Imperial said in a HK Stock Exchange filing. It will now meet and discuss terms and conditions with the commission. Shares in parent company, Imperial Pacific soared almost 23 percent in Hong Kong trading before being halted pending news of the decision. Best Sunshine beats rival Marianas Stars for the license after a contentious few months of legal wrangling.
Marianas Stars sought to have the awards process halted through a preliminary injunction in the CNMI’s Superior Court, saying its interests would be “irreparably harmed” were the process to continue.
The company based its argument on the legality of allowing the Lottery Commission to award the license, warning it may be partial to bias.
The court denied the injunction and parliament last week repealed and reenacted the casino enabling legislation to correct any ambiguities, giving the commission the full authority to make the decision on the island’s first casino resort.
While vying for the license, Imperial Pacific publicly stated that it will make a $10 million contribution to the local community, distributing the amount through cash vouchers to all locally born adults, if it wins the license.
It will also pledge $20 million in cash to be distributed within 60 days of commencing construction works on its first hotel in the project and at least $20 million in cash every year after the first full year of operations.
Marianas Stars claimed its project would have provided a boost of between $300 million to $500 million to the island’s economy once it’s fully operational and would provide 5,000 jobs.
The company said the project would give a $50 million bump to growth during the construction phase from 2015 to 2017. The Marianas Stars resort envisaged four new hotels, a casino, a theme park, a multi-purpose venue and a waterfront village.
The casino would have a total floor space of 20,000 metres, with 300 tables and 700 electronic gaming machines.
The government has been promoting the construction of a casino to help boost tourism revenue and close a shortfall in pension funding. The bill has been opposed by opposition politicians who have sought to collect enough signatures to force a referendum on the issue.
Marianas Stars wasn’t immediately available for comment.