Official: Casinos will not draw more tourists to Saipan


SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands — Legalizing casino gambling in Saipan wouldn’t necessarily draw more tourists, according to a Japan-based tourism official for the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Michael Merner, the Marianas Visitors Authority managing director for Japan, said tourists travel to Saipan for its natural beauty, and glitzy casinos wouldn’t fit in.

“It’s important that Saipan not follow the road of Guam or Hawaii with overcommercialized development,” said Merner, of Marketing Garden Ltd. Saipan should “keep its position as a natural paradise, and that doesn’t fit the casino image,” he said.

The Northern Mariana Islands already have casino gaming in Tinian, and Merner said there’s no need to expand it to Saipan.

In an informal survey of 10 major Japanese travel agents, Merner said the “overwhelming answer” was that Saipan shouldn’t create a casino.

The U.S. commonwealth “has a great reputation for its natural beauty. Not so much for the quality of the infrastructure. Not so much about the restaurants. Nature is really its selling point,” he said.

A measure before the commonwealth’s legislature would legalize casinos in Saipan and allow them to operate in hotels with at least 250 rooms. Investors would have to pay a $100,000 nonrefundable casino application fee, and additional licensing fees could reach $200,000.

Even though most gambling is illegal in Japan, travel agents believe adding gambling to Saipan’s attractions wouldn’t entice Japanese visitors, Merner said.