While the Guam Liberation Carnival has not always hosted a casino on its premises during the annual liberation festivities, the gambling hall has, historically, drawn controversy and money whenever its doors do open.
The casino did at one point bring in revenue in excess of $1 million, according to The Guam Daily Post files. In recent years, however, the inflow of money has dramatically decreased, according to former Liberation Carnival committee chairwoman Heidi Ballendorf.
Before she resigned Friday, Ballendorf spoke to the Post about the funds the casino brings to the overall carnival revenues.
“The casino does generate some revenue for the carnival and the parade – all of the activities around Liberation Day,” she said. “People are under the impression it makes a ton of money – it’s been declining; the money has not been what it used to be, and there’s many reasons for that. … At one time, the casino brought in over $1 million – it doesn’t do that anymore.”
“I think there’s a perception out there in the community that all this money is being raised, and (some question where) is it going,” Ballendorf said.
In an annual report released by the Guam Liberation Historical Society, a financial audit for the years 2013 and 2014 shows a decline of more than $450,000 in concessions revenue, which includes the money collected by the casino.
“When the 2015 and 2016 audit comes out, you’re going to see that it’s much less than what it’s been in previous years,” Ballendorf added.
In fiscal 2016, an audit into the Mayors’ Council of Guam shows the council received $124,648 in Liberation Day proceeds, and spent $105,195 in Liberation Day expenses. The casino revenue was not separated from the total.
Council President Paul McDonald did say Friday that without casino revenues, the entire liberation carnival would not be financially sustainable.
According to a report from the Guam Office of Public Accountability, the carnival has had a history of a lack of accountability and lax-to-non-existent record-keeping.
“For the past six years, from 2004 to 2009, the Guam Island Fair Committee, better known as the Liberation Day Committee (LDC), was not held accountable for the funds raised during the annual Liberation Day festivities,” according to OPA report 10-09. “The lack of oversight has allowed for poor record-keeping, negligence regarding tax-exempt filing requirements, and failure to comply with orders to establish a special textbook fund.”
In an effort to more closely adhere to those orders, the Mayors’ Council designated the nonprofit civic organization Guam Liberation Historical Society in 2013 to organize Liberation Day festivities.
As a nonprofit organization, the Guam Liberation Historical Society is required by law to publicly publish annual financial reports. However, when the Post went to the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation to review the nonprofit’s file, desk staff said the records were not public.
Without those records, there is no telling just how much money any prospective casino might bring in during this year’s festivities. What is known is that the casino is the carnival’s biggest money-maker and that without it, carnival organizers are “in trouble,” according to Guam Liberation Historical Society chairman and Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann.