GARAPAN Saipan — Bridge Investment Group LLC which has been working on building a $150-million casino resort on Tinian for the past two years has started reviewing its business plan in light of a Saipan gambling measure that the House of Representatives — which is dominated by lawmakers from Saipan — has passed.
Rudy Pamintuan managing director for Bridge Investment; who was on Saipan from Dec.13 to 20; told the Journal that his company may drop its Tinian casino plan and move the project to Saipan if the controversial House Bill 15-322 is enacted.
“Who wouldn’t? I still think Tinian is beautiful but it’s a business decision ” Pamintuan told the Journal.
“It’s economics. If Saipan is going to have gaming then maybe we need to re-evaluate our strategy. It’s very difficult to build a business plan within these last couple of months. Tinian went from being the only island that offers gaming — and so we built a marketing plan around that — and now we are bringing into consideration Rota and what that brings to the future; and now we have to also take into consideration Saipan.
“We need to scrap it re-evaluate and come up with a new business plan because it [House Bill 15-322] changes the dynamics of the market ” Pamintuan said.
The Rota electorate voted in favor of allowing casino activities on the island during the Nov. 2 midterm election.
Pamintuan who met with local elected officials during his stay said investing in a casino infrastructure on Saipan would cost his company less because the building infrastructure is already in place on the island compared to Tinian where Bridge Investment would have to construct its own facility.
“Anyone who is going to invest in a business wants to do so in such a way that it minimizes [the] investment amount. Why spend over $100 million to construct something on an island when we can spend a quarter of that amount and start business right away if that’s what Saipan wants to do?” he said.
Bridge Investment was scheduled to break ground for the Tinian casino project on Dec. 28 but has put it on hold.
“We don’t want to do that [scrap the Tinian casino project]. We’ve invested a lot of time and … money. There’s a lot of efforts that have been put on it. We still don’t anticipate to see revenues until it is actually built. But we have been committed to that and that has been based on an environment that we built our business plan on. That environment has completely changed.
“We really want this [Tinian] project to happen. It is not fair that the environment of policy has changed and we have investors who can’t change with it. Of course we are going to have to adjust ourselves ” Pamintuan said.
He said H.B. 15-322 is “putting uncertainty in the gaming industry.”
The bill which passed the House on Dec. 5 is now pending in the nine-member NMI Senate. The Senate is composed of three senators each from Saipan Tinian and Rota. The 18-member House is composed of 16 Saipan lawmakers; and one each from Tinian and Rota.
The bill would legalize Texas Hold’em poker blackjack and baccarat at the former La Fiesta Mall in San Roque. It would also allow slot machines at La Fiesta and major hotels and resorts.
The Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino has regularly held poker blackjack and baccarat tournaments since 2001. Opening Saipan for the same gambling activities is expected to drive away the Dynasty’s regular tournament customers because then they would not have to take another — albeit short — flight or a ferry ride to Tinian.
The House’s move came after the Saipan electorate voted against a popular initiative that would legalize casino gambling on the island during the Nov. 3 midterm election. The initiative got 3 701 affirmative votes; a total of 5 125 voters rejected it. MBJ