TINIAN CASINO PROJECT ON HOLD PENDING BILL

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By Moneth G. Deposa

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Dec. 10) – A new casino investor on Tinian has postponed its scheduled groundbreaking because the House of Representatives passed a Saipan gaming measure.

"We are very disappointed and are considering postponing indefinitely the $60 million first phase groundbreaking that was scheduled this month," said Bridge Investment Group LLC executive vice president Phillip Mendiola-Long in an e-mail to Variety.

House Bill 15-322, or the Tourism Entertainment and Destination Enhancement Act of 2007, is now on its way to the Senate, which is dominated by Tinian and Rota where casino gaming is legal.

Saipan voters last month rejected a casino gaming initiative, but the House bill will allow some card games and video lottery activities on island.

The bill aims to raise $200,000 yearly to pay for the La Fiesta Mall which was bought by the government under the previous administration.

The groundbreaking for the new Tinian casino was slated for Dec. 28.

"But due to the Legislature’s actions, this has been cancelled and planning for Tinian is now being evaluated," Mendiola-Long said. "This will now push our schedule until we get a clear picture of what the CNMI wants to do with the gaming issue."

He said their company has "absolutely zero interest in the La Fiesta Mall and the House bill will essentially circumvent the Saipan people’s decision to reject casino gaming."

He said the House should have conducted a public hearing before passing the bill.

"But they knew the controversy they faced so they passed the bill in this manner," he said.

Bridge Investment Group’s managing director will be on island this week to meet with lawmakers and the administration.

The new $100 million casino facility is scheduled to be completed in June 2009.

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