Filipino workers and other employees of a lone casino in a tiny US island called Tinian were forced to stop working starting Friday noon over widespread tourist trip cancellations since Typhoon Soudelor hit both Tinian and Saipan more than two weeks ago.
The casino announced that the closure is only “temporary.”
Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino said it will be closed for “at least three weeks” from August 14.
The reopening also depends on the success of an ongoing transition to a new casino ownership.
The casino’s statement that the closure will only be temporary is not reassuring enough for affected employees, many of them from the Philippines and who have been with the casino for several years.
“Sa meeting, nabanggit na temporary lang daw dahil sa transition period due to another owner…Di pa rin namin alam kung hanggang kailang babalik ang normal operation. Sabi nila mga three to four weeks daw…Promise ng management once naayos within a month, bubuksan daw uli. Ang tanong kasi, na-issue na ba ang license sa casino?” one of the affected casino employees told GMA News.
Casino employees asked that their names not be published for fear of retaliation from the current and future owners of the casino.
While the casino operation has been closed, hotel operations continue but occupancy is also low, employees said.
Some casino employees are skeptical that the closure would only last three weeks to a month for yet another reason – the casino’s financial and compliance struggles.
In June, the US government ordered Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino’s owner, Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investments Ltd., to pay a record $75 million in civil penalty for allegedly violating the United States’ anti-money-laundering rules.
In February this year, more than 500 Filipinos and other foreign workers filed a lawsuit against Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino for allegedly lying to them about their immigration status for at least 18 months.
Tinian and Saipan are two of the three major islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), a US territory in the Western Pacific some three hours away by direct flight from Manila.
On August 2, Typhoon Soudelor struck the CNMI and has since been tagged as the strongest storm in the world so far this year.
Unlike Saipan, Tinian did not experience Soudelor’s wrath. But because the typhoon-ravaged Saipan is the CNMI’s international air hub, flights to and from the islands were limited.
The international airport on Saipan had to shut down for a few days because of damage sustained from the typhoon. Days later, the Saipan airport was reopened, but only for daytime flights. This caused massive cancellations of trips among tourists, the Tinian casino’s main market.
More than 9,000 tourists have so far cancelled their trips to the CNMI over Soudelor’s destruction, resulting in a revenue loss of at least $24 million, according to the CNMI government’s preliminary data.
Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas said on Sunday that the Tinian casino’s decision to temporarily close its doors stemmed from the inability of tour operators to sell its Tinian-Saipan destination tour package as a result of Soudelor’s devastation.
He also said more than a month earlier, the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission had entered into a memorandum of understanding with Hong Kong Entertainment (Overseas) Investments Ltd. and an entity called Tinian Entertainment Co “for the purposes of transferring ownership and operational control” between the two investor groups.
The mayor said there’s assurance from the casino management that affected employees will get free lodging and meals in the interim and “will be paying employees one pay period this Friday, Aug. 21.”
A casino employee said there were plans to temporarily transfer affected casino employees to hotel operations so they may continue to work and get paid.
Tinian Dynasty Hotel and Casino, the CNMI’s first operational casino, is the biggest employer of US citizens and foreign workers on Tinian. During World War II, Tinian was the launching pad for the US military planes that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, bringing a decisive end to the war. —KBK, GMA News