BY EMILY MEIDENBAUER
Bridge Investment Group LLC had previously planned to open the doors to its new casino in September 2021, but that may no longer be the case. The investment group continues to face permitting issues and may face issues with visitor traffic once open.
“I don’t think they are going to open in September as projected,” said Kimberlyn King-Hinds, chairwoman of the Commonwealth Ports Authority.
King-Hinds said the investment group needs to build a waste treatment facility, which is part of the permitting process.
“In the absence of a waste treatment plant, CPA will continue to object to any temporary usage of septic tanks down at the docks for them to be able to open up partially,” she said. “I know [Bridge Investment Group LLC] has been in communication with leadership and they have been requesting to be allowed to open up the restaurant using the septic tanks, but the CPA has taken the position that we’re tired of the temporary fixes to what should be mandatory.” The dock is a particular area of concern, she said. “It’s really close to the beach area.”
Due to the pandemic, travel restrictions, and global tensions, the casino may face other issues upon opening.
The casino industry relies heavily on tourism, and Tinian is just beginning to slowly open its borders to visitors. However, tourism markets may come with challenges.
“I don’t foresee the China market opening in September,” King-Hinds said. “I think their target market has always been China, and I think that now that particular market is questionable given the issues between the U.S. and China, which we have no control over. I do know that with the opening up of the tourism industry that they’re also hoping to get these day-trippers as well.”
Star Marianas operates an inter-island commuter service between Saipan, Rota and Tinian. King-Hinds said that the company recently announced an intention to increase ticket prices for commuter flights, which may pose challenges for day-trippers looking to visit the casino. There is also discussion on building a “roll on, roll off” ferry between Tinian and Saipan, but there are questions on the feasibility of such an undertaking.
“When we used to have a ferry, it was operated by the Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino,” she said. “They were able to run the ferry at a relatively low cost because the casino itself was subsidizing the ferry operations to the tune of about $200,000 a month just in fuel-related costs. If you don’t have the volume, you’re going to have to somehow find a way to make it financially feasible. In order to do that, you need to create a demand. Given that the ferry is roll on, roll off, it’s going to be slower. It’s not going to be as fast as a catamaran. Maybe on weekends, when family wants to go back and forth and do weekend trips, it’d be feasible, but I don’t know, and I can’t see how it can be financially viable just for the daily commute. That’s challenging.”
According to journal files, Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino closed in 2015 due to costly damages by Typhoon Soudelor. The closure was intended to be temporary, but the business never reopened. The U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network also announced fines of $75 million for Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investments, Ltd., parent company of the Tinian Dynasty in 2015. The Alter City Group planned another casino in Tinian in 2016, but the project did not move forward.
If Bridge Investment overcomes its challenges, the casino may have a favorable effect on Tinian, creating new jobs and bringing in revenue for the island.
“The hope has always been that they — by opening up — will look to the local market and train the local workforce to be able to work at the casino, whether it be the casino, the restaurant, or the hotel,” King-Hinds said. “That’s always been the desire of the leadership and that’s where the support they’ve gotten thus far has been based on. Obviously, everyone’s kind of looking for a way to have a new industry, even though the industry’s not new. But there are some challenges given where we are located.”
According to journal files, Pacific Rim Land Development Inc. was awarded the design-build of the 40,803 square meter hotel and casino, and the project started in February 2014, was estimated at $16 million. The project experienced delays in delivery of supplies around May 2020, however work continued throughout the pandemic with additional safety measures in place, but delays occurred in October of that year, due to what Pacific Rim said was permitting and the agreement with CPA. mbj