Sept. best month yet for Best Sunshine

Imperial Pacific International Holdings says it’s already accepting advance bookings from China and Japan for its new luxury resort scheduled to open on Saipan at Chinese New Year 2017. The company is counting on the new property to ease capacity restraints and unlock the island’s growth potential.

Imperial Pacific reported its best month yet in VIP rollings in Sept., with the numbers picking up after several flat months that raised concern the temporary casino may have reached saturation point.

The casino took in $3.95 billion, its best month since opening. The figure tops the previous high set in April of $3.18 billion, after which the casino reported several months of declining or flat VIP roll. The company has previously warned that until more facilities come online, further growth is likely to be limited due to capacity constraints at the temporary casino.

For the first half of this year, total revenue reached HK$3.98 billion ($513 million), with revenue from VIP gaming operations making up the bulk at HK$3.82 billion. Mass gaming operations generated HK$122.2 million, while slots and ETGs came in at HK$26.8 million. Adjusted EBITDA was HK$1.24 billion, compared with a loss on that basis of HK$82.59 million.

The company will open its new resort early in 2017. The Grand Mariana hotel is scheduled to have 350 hotel rooms and 15 villas. The casino will open with 300 tables, 180 VIP only, and 500 slot machines.

Meanwhile, junket operators have been lining up to operate on the island and supply Best Sunshine with international VIP players.

The Commonwealth Casino Commission said it has returned some of the applications of junket operators and is still going through the vetting process for the junkets.

Korea junket gets Saipan license

Saipan’s gaming regulator has issued a provisional license to Koreabased junket operator, Big Bang Entertainment. The provisional license was issued by the Commonwealth Casino Commission on August 11, 2016 to Du Young Jang who owns Big Bang Entertainment LLC, and will expire on August 31, 2017. Most of Big Bang Entertainment’s clients are from South Korea and Japan.

Rota Resort owner files lawsuit against regulator

The owner of CNMI’s Rota Resort and Country Club has reportedly filed a lawsuit against the Rota Casino Gaming Commission and its commissioners for unfairly deeming their conditional casino license expired. SNM Corp., owner of the Rota Resort and Country Club said that the Rota casino commission violated the Open Government Act by holding a special meeting without giving notice to the company or the public.

“We have 17 other applicants but we took some of them and we turn them back. There are certain areas that they are missing and have not yet completed or complied with. Some of them have re-submitted their applications,” commission executive director Edward Deleon Guerrero said. In September, CCC issued a provisional license to Korea-based junket operator, Big Bang Entertainment, which remains the only one through the gates at the moment.

Tourism numbers from South Korea in particular have been booming, helped by new flight connections and a marketing drive by the Marianas Visitors Authority in Korea. Arrivals from Korea more than doubled in August, jumping 154 percent to 21,528 visitors.

With direct double daily flights from Seoul by Jeju Air and double daily service from Seoul by Asiana Airlines in the summer season, the tourism authority projects arrivals from Korea to the NMI are projected to remain extremely strong through the end of this year. 

In addition to new flights launched in June by Korean Air’s low cost carrier Jin Air, Jeju Air is expected to launch a new service from Busan to Saipan at the end of the year. Eastar Jet has also started direct flight links with the island. 

Overall arrivals to CNMI soared 63 percent in August 2016 compared to August 2015, due in part to the low base last year when Typhoon Soudelor devastated the island.

Arrivals from China increased 47 percent compared to August 2015 to 18,786 visitors. Meanwhile, Imperial Pacific is putting the financing in place to finish the construction of the resort. The company is offering a highyield bond, which will be secured on the casino assets and resort under construction. The notes are expected to be rated B1/BB- (Moody’s/Fitch) and will be issued through its subsidiary, Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC (Saipan).

According to a report from Reuters, the company still needs around $380 million to finish the project and is seeking raise around $300 million from the bond issue.

Fitch Ratings said it expects to assign Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd a Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of ‘B(EXP)’ with a stable outlook.

According to the ratings agency, the rating reflects the operator’s short operating history in Saipan, driven mostly by the volatile highrolling VIP segment. The ratings are also “supported by a low tax regime, attractive location, the use of junkets/guarantors in its VIP gaming business and addition of tourist amenities in Saipan by IPI and other parties,” said the firm.

On the other hand, the rating is constrained by the “high mobility” of VIP players, who already have a number of options of established casinos to choose from.