The sleepy Pacific island of Saipan is the latest hotspot for floods of Chinese cash after a casino set up by a former Macau junket operator started operations last year. Paul Chapman reports.
This might look like any other casino but the Best Sunshine Live on the tiny Pacific island of Saipan is far from it. The small test casino's raking in a massive monthly rolling average VIP turnover of nearly four billion dollars. That's on a par with much bigger casinos in China's gambling haven, Macau. Lawmakers in Saipan, a U.S. commonwealth island, overturned a ban on casinos in 2014, even though a third opposed it including Ramon Tebuteb. (SOUNDBITE)(English) NORTHERN MARIANAS COMMONWEALTH LEGISLATURE REPRESENTATIVE RAMON TEBUTEB SAYING: "It didn't have to go through the committee, it was basically, we use the word rammed down." As the latest hotspot to cash in on Chinese gambling money, Best Sunshine Live's owners are now building a larger, permanent base on Saipan. Falling tourist numbers and the collapse of the garment industry have left the island's economy struggling for years. Despite the gambling cash injection some of Saipan's residents like coffee shop owner Glen Hunter question its regulation. (SOUNDBITE)(English) LOCAL RESIDENT GLEN HUNTER SAYING: "Are they under proper oversight? Are we maybe allowing for money laundering? Are we maybe allowing for some shady business to go on there?" Others among the 50,000 population say it's at least boosted the national pension fund. (SOUNDBITE)(English) LOCAL RESIDENT MARY CABRERA SAYING: "They say that the casino, our retirement pension, it helps because before the economy was really down." Best Sunshine Live is unlikely to go unnoticed by Chinese authorities unhappy about their citizens travelling abroad to gamble. But with a gaming tax rate of just five per cent on Saipan compared to 39 per cent in Macau, Best Sunshine Live's owners are now thought to be looking to expand to neighbouring Pacific islands.