TINIAN AGREES TO CASINO LAND SWAP

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By Gemma Q. Cassas

TINIAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 30) – American investors are poised to build a US$150 million hotel and casino here on Tinian, but residents interviewed by this reporter were divided when asked whether they believe that more gambling activity will be good for their community.

Phillip Mendiola-Long, vice president of Bridge Investment Group LLC and an aide to former Mayor Francisco M. Borja, said their firm is now officially proceeding with the project following the Marianas Public Lands Authority’s decision to allow them to relocate a 1,000 square meter public road, which blocks the 25,000 square meter hillside private property where the casino-hotel project is proposed to be built.

Mendiola-Long said the Public Lands Authority, which held a meeting last week on Tinian, agreed to allow Bridge Investment to make a land exchange offer for the public road that will be affected by their project.

"There’s a 1,000 square meter public road running through the 5 hectares private property where the casino and hotel project will be built," he explained, saying if the Public Lands Authority did not agree to relocate the southern portion of the public road, the investors may have backed out of the plan.

The Chicago-based Bridge Investment is leasing a 50,000 square mile piece of private land for the project.

The firm has already been granted a 40-year permit to operate a casino here by the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission.

Mendiola-Long said they expect the groundbreaking ceremony for the 400-room casino and hotel project to take place in June.

"June is our official groundbreaking date. Then we’ll work on our permits from Coastal Resources Management, the Historic Preservation Office, and the Division of Environmental Quality," said Mendiola-Long

Tinian already has a hotel and casino — Tinian Dynasty Hotel & Casino, which opened in 1998.

However, Dynasty has yet to recover a significant amount of its investment, as there has been no significant increase in the number of tourists visiting Tinian since the hotel opened.

Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission said four more U.S. and Asian firms have secured applications for a casino permit.

But none have submitted their applications as of this month.

Mendiola-Long said Bridge Investment plans to charter flights from Japan, South Korea, China and Thailand, to fill their hotel rooms with guests.

Tricia Villagomez, a jobless mother of a young boy, said she would welcome a greater U.S. military presence in their area but not another casino.

Villagomez said she feels that Tinian Dynasty does not need competition.

"I don’t think it’s a good idea — it’s another loss for Tinian Dynasty," she said.

But she agreed that a new casino will bring in more jobs for island residents.

"Most locals don’t have jobs. That should help them," she said.

For Lina Ayuyu, another mother, more casinos mean more problems for the local people on Tinian.

"I’m against gambling. It’s not good for the family. The locals will just spend their money at the casino. But the military presence is good," she told Variety.

Ayuyu used to work in Tinian Dynasty’s linen department. Her husband, Ray, quit his government job when a new mayor was elected.

Since both of them are jobless, they rely on welfare to get by.

Her husband, however, feels that more casinos mean economic progress for Tinian.

"We need more casinos — we need more jobs," he said, adding that he believes that the casinos are more "tailored" to tourists than to locals like him.

January 30, 2006

Marianas Variety: www.mvariety.com

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