Tinian casino developer shames government with online petition

tinian-ocean-resort-casinoA frustrated casino developer on the island of Tinian has launched an online petition aimed at convincing the government to cut the red tape holding back its project.

On February 3, Bridge Investment Group (BIG) started a petition on Change.org, seeking support for its construction of a resort casino on Tinian, which is part of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). The petition has to date garnered 208 signatures, leaving it 292 short of its goal.

BIG was granted conditional gaming license approval by the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission (TCGCC) eons ago, yet the planned $130m Titanic-themed Tinian Ocean Resort and Casino has yet to set sail (metaphorically speaking), and BIG is putting at least some of the blame on government officials who aren’t clear on the definition of “port-related activities.”

BIG is building its casino in and around an area near Tinian Harbor’s commercial ports. The first phase of BIG’s construction is a ferry terminal from which the majority of the resort’s guests are expected to arrive, given what BIG calls “the lack of consistent flights to Tinian.” BIG’s petition notes that the terminal will provide roll-on/roll-off vehicles services that will benefit all of Tinian’s residents.

BIG believes the terminal is “undeniably a port-related activity,” and the resort itself is a “port-related project” as it will offer hotel accommodations to passengers who arrive in Tinian via the ferry. Yet this point is somehow lost on CNMI officials, who have yet to issue the project a master siting permit.

BIG says it has spent $10m since construction on its project began in August 2014, as well as an additional $3m to relocate the old warehouses and customs and immigration offices that were situated where BIG’s project is being built.

BIG is also paying a monthly payroll of $160,422, around $190k in monthly construction and operational expenses, as well as an annual conditional license fee of $500k. BIG insists that it has complied with all the provisions of its lease agreement, so make with the permit already.

Local Rep. Edwin Aldan has introduced legislation that would more specifically define the terms “port-related operations” and “industrial port use” in a manner that allows the Coastal Resources Management to issue the necessary permit, but when it will become law of the land is anyone’s guess.

Tinian hasn’t had much luck getting its casino market off the ground. The island’s sole operational gaming venue shut its doors in 2015 after US financial watchdog FinCEN fined the owners of the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino $75m for their flagrant disregard for anti-money laundering protocols.

The mothballed Tinian Dynasty looked like it had a chance at redemption last year when Tinian Entertainment Corp (TEC) expressed interest in keeping the property going. However, FinCEN has demanded that TEC pay the $75m fine before Tinian Dynasty can reopen, leaving the property’s future up in the air.