- Saipan’s $7bn casino project has run into many difficulties in recent years
- Initially, it was to be completed before 2019, but it might not be finished until mid-2021
- Now former workers have brought a lawsuit against the casino company and its contractors
- 500 workers can no longer work on this job due to a new US policy on work permits
Details of this casino project
Imperial Pacific International Holdings is a casino company headquartered in Hong Kong. The company owns a mega-resort casino project in Saipan that has been struggling with a myriad of issues that delayed its completion.
The development of this $7bn (£5.3bn) project first began in 2014. Saipan is the biggest of the Pacific Ocean’s Northern Mariana Islands, which belongs to the US commonwealth.
The company operates the only casino in Saipan. The casino has struggled recently, with revenue dropping by 51% in the first half of 2018.
It also has high levels of high roller debt, worth more than $1.4bn (£1.05bn), which is a lot more than most casinos would allow. In August 2018, there were problems with paying workers on time.
The Saipan authorities gave approval for four junket operators to open operations on the island. Imperial is mainly focusing on trying to get high rollers from Asia into their facility. Their operating casino has been open since 2015 and has been a great source of revenue for the island.
Delay after delay
The new casino project is known as the Pacific International Casino and the initial deadline for completion was August 31, 2018. The company previously informed the Commonwealth Casino Commission that the completion date would be December 2018.
The main reason for this latest setback is the loss of about 500 workers. Now there are only 300 people working on the project. The company had to go back to the commission and seek another change in the deadline. The completion date has now been set for February 2021.
The reason so many workers can no longer work on the project is a new US new policy that workers from the Philippines will need to obtain H-2B work permits if they are to continue. Most of the workers were from the Philippines, which is 1,700 miles from Saipan.
Naturally, the casino company cannot control this problem. Nevertheless, the commission is not too happy and now wants a monthly update on the development’s progress.
Eric Poon Poon, the construction vice president for the company, said at the most recent monthly meeting with the commission: “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.”
If the US makes no changes to its policy, workers from other countries will have to be found. They may come from India or Mongolia.
New lawsuit against the company
In the latest setback, the company faces a lawsuit from former construction workers who claim that they were victims of human trafficking and of forced labor. This suit was filed by seven construction workers who are of Chinese nationality.
They are asking the Saipan Federal Court to reward them monetary compensation for their pain and suffering. They also want punitive damages. Imperial Pacific and two contractors on the project, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration and MCC International Saipan Ltd., are named as defendants.
The suit alleges that workers had to work for more than 12 hours a day, with some doing 24-hour shifts. They also have claims relating to late payments.
The filing says that the casino company “recklessly disregarded its contractors’ exploitive and illegal practices.” It also claims that the company was aware that unauthorized workers were working on the project. The plaintiffs say they suffered many injuries on the job.