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Same investor bought Rota Hotel in January

By Alexie Villegas Zotomayor SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Business Journal, May 24, 2010) - The first Japanese-owned casino-hotel in the Northern Mariana Islands is up for renovation.

Masahiro Watanabe, president of Rota Treasure Island Corp., told the Journal through his interpreter, "Up to now it is just a resort hotel. We really need to upgrade the quality of its appearance and incorporate a hotel casino image. There will be certain renovations to give it much more of a casino appeal."

Watanabe said the renovations would include adding Internet service, televisions, and an iPod system to all rooms with the total cost of renovations to run up to US$10,000 per room or around US$300,000 for the entire hotel. Watanabe told the Journal that the company has yet to find a contractor for the renovation.

Rota Treasure Island Casino and Hotel has 32 rooms. Watanabe said he is planning to initially renovate 15 rooms in the first phase of the project which he expects to complete by the end of July.

On top of the renovations, Watanabe is investing in slot, poker and other casino machines in the amount of US$500,000.

Having received his license recently from the Rota Gaming Commission to operate a casino, Watanabe became the first Japanese casino investor and operator in the NMI.

As for bringing casino guests to Rota, Watanabe expressed optimism that he would be able to bring casino gamblers that he has been dealing with for several years as a casino guide and agent.

For 12 years, Watanabe has been bringing casino gamers from Japan to a host of casino destinations around the world including Tinian, Las Vegas, Philippines, Bahamas and South Korea.

"This has been my job for many years - taking guests to different casinos around the world," said Watanabe who’s also considering contacting casino guides and agents he knows to bring guests to his casino resort.

In the long run, the Tokyo-based businessman confirmed to the Journal "in the future, somewhere down the road, the idea of purchasing airplanes is being considered."

Asked if he also considered providing ferry service, Watanabe said the current number of rooms doesn’t justify the provision of ferry service. "Airplanes, for many reasons, will be the best way to go."

Watanabe, who has offices in Sendai, Osaka, and now Saipan, started in the insurance business two decades ago. At the height of the Asian financial crisis, many of Watanabe’s clients’ businesses went bankrupt, however his insurance business prospered and Watanabe reinvested in his clients’ companies. "I reinvested in them so they could start their business all over again," said Watanabe.

Watanabe is looking forward to also investing in other businesses in the NMI that would complement his business.

Recently, Rota Treasure Island has joined forces with SAMUHAN International Inc. to revitalize the once-defunct G.I.G. disco in Garapan.

According to Watanabe, SAMUHAN invited him to be the chief advisor of the disco to revive it so that it might reclaim its good repute as a weekend destination.

Watanabe told the Journal that the disco has waived its entrance fee and is offering beer at US$2.50, shots for US$4 and US$5 for cocktails.

Watanabe said he is looking to hold various events to maximize the disco’s potential. "There are plans for dance contests and other events. Portions of the proceeds from dance contests and other events will be donated to educational and scholarship funds," said Watanabe. The disco will also be available for residents who would like to rent it for weddings, birthdays and other social events.

Watanabe is also planning to bring limousine service to the NMI. He told the Journal that the limousines will be available for weddings, parties, proms and other special occasions.

In October 2009, Watanabe made manifest his interest in acquiring Rota Hotel and filed for an application for a casino license with the Rota Gaming Commission. In January, Rota Treasure Island announced the purchase of Rota Hotel for US$5 million.

In a public notice Jan. 27, Rota Treasure Island Corp. announced it would be making a US$400,000 payment to the Rota Gaming Commission for a casino license valid for five years.

On April 7, Diego M. Songao, chairman, Rota Casino Gaming Commission issued a certificate of conditional casino license to Rota Treasure Island Corp. Within 180 days of receipt of the conditional license, Rota Treasure Island must meet all the necessary requirements and conditions set by the gaming commission. The conditional license expires October 7.

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