Northern Mariana Islands' Tinian Seeks To Reboot Online Gambling

May 24, 2024
Four Northern Mariana Islands lawmakers are attempting to kick-start a regulatory structure for online gambling on the island of Tinian by removing a licensee’s obligation to operate a land-based casino and hotel.

Four Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) lawmakers are attempting to kick-start a regulatory structure for online gambling on the island of Tinian by removing a licensee’s obligation to operate a land-based casino and hotel.

The island of Tinian in the CNMI, a US dependency, is the latest island territory to seek a seat at the table of online gambling regulatory hubs, with its push to attract gambling licensees based on freeing up existing local legislation and balancing federal government strictures.

An amendment bill removing the hotel condition and severing online gambling licences from land-based operations on Tinian was filed in the CNMI Senate on May 10.

The bill provides for an unlimited number of 20-year licences pursuant to regulations imposed by the Tinian Casino Gaming Control Commission.

Instead of requiring licensees to operate a land-based casino and a hotel with at least 200 rooms, the bill says internet gaming operations are “conditioned on the implementation of age verification software reasonably designed to block access to minors”.

The existing requirement for “geolocation software” that limits internet gambling to within “intra-island borders of the Second Senatorial District” (primarily Tinian) and foreign jurisdictions remains, therefore, continuing to exclude the domestic market of neighbouring Saipan, the CNMI’s largest island by population.

However, the bill also eases a limitation on foreign customers by switching to a requirement that online gambling be “not prohibited by law” rather than “legal” in foreign jurisdictions, therefore admitting grey markets.

The move comes as leading offshore gambling hub Curaçao moves to tighten its regulations and increase oversight of operators licensed on the island.

In the past year, jurisdictions as far flung as Tobique, Anjouan and East Timor have all staked their claims as new licensing hotspots.

The Tinian bill was introduced by Senators Jude Hofschneider, a two-time Senate president, Francisco Cruz and Karl King-Nabors.

The bill’s opening section argues that “in the interest of promoting the Tinian gambling industry, it is lawful and necessary to amend [legislation] in order to be globally competitive and compliant with United States federal laws and regulations”.

The senators invited Tinian mayor Edwin Aldan, CNMI attorney general Edward Manibusan and members of the Tinian Municipal Council and Tinian gaming commission to a public hearing on Tuesday (May 21).

Debate on the bill has yet to be scheduled, according to the legislature’s website.

Meanwhile, a separate amendment bill doubling Tinian’s internet gambling revenue tax from 5 percent to 10 percent was filed by lawmaker Patrick San Nicolas in the House of Representatives on May 8, in anticipation of passage of the larger amendment bill.

The two proposed changes to Chapter 6 (Casino Gambling) of the CNMI Commonwealth Code would bring Tinian onto the radar of global online gambling operators previously repelled by unfeasible land-based casino conditions.

The island’s sole land-based operation, the Tinian Diamond Casino, opened in late November after the US-based Bridge Investment Group secured a licence five years ago.

The CNMI’s gambling industry has struggled amid the Imperial Pacific integrated resort’s failure to open, the clogging of courts with litigation, and FBI and US Treasury punishment of labour and gaming irregularities in Saipan and Tinian, respectively.

Suffering from “immeasurable financial economic losses” in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the Imperial Pacific fiasco, the CNMI legislature introduced a bare-bones online gambling bill in December 2023 that would legalise internet gaming in the commonwealth.

However, industry observers have expressed consistent scepticism that the CNMI can support a competitive online gambling hub given its subordinance to US regulations and the US Wire Act.

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