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Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort marks expansion with ribbon cutting

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AKWESASNE - The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council officially opened the casino expansion on Thursday night to a crowd of several hundred, re-branding the facility the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.

The work played out over 18 months and carried a $74 million price tag. St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council Chief Randy Hart said Thursday night the project was on-time and on-budget.

“It was a real team effort and we’re very proud of that,” Mr. Hart said after a ribbon-cutting.

Chief Paul Thompson said the casino now employs 980 people and the expanded facility brings in “$1 million on a good day.”

The chiefs declined to comment on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement that he may open state-run casinos in areas where Indian casinos under exclusivity agreements are not in good standing with their revenue-sharing compacts. He said he may also expand the revenue sharing to more outlying counties.

“We have to take a look at it and really digest it,” Chief Ron LaFrance said. “We just received it today.”

The tribe has withheld about $59 million from the state since October 2010, citing a breach of their compact with the state that grants them regional exclusivity to operate a casino, as long as they pay a portion of the monies generated from electronic slot machines to Albany. They claim the state knew about a casino on the Ganienkeh reservation in Altona and did nothing to shut it down.

Mr. Hart said he is confident that the tribe and state will be able to “look for a beneficial resolution to this.”

During his ribbon-cutting speech, Mr. Hart said gaming in Akwesasne “has not always taken the path of least resistance.” Along with Mr. LaFrance and Mr. Thompson, the trio said when the bingo palace opened in 1985 a sizeable contingent in Akwesasne did not want gaming and some went as far as throwing rocks at buses bringing gamblers to the bingo hall.

“We made a $74 million infusion into the economy,” Mr. LaFrance said. “We took a chance, and this is the product we have today.”

The first casino resort addition many will notice as they pass on state Route 37 is the new 150-room hotel that is attached to the casino. It features the Sweetgrass Spa on the second floor, which is open to the public. It offers services such as facials, massages and exfoliation.

Officials had previously stated that it will include a spa, pool and fitness area. Next door, Tarbell Management Group worked on a 37-room expansion to the existing Comfort Inn & Suites Akwesasne, providing a total of 101 rooms there.

The Mohawk Bingo Palace, which the tribe has operated for about 27 years, relocated to a 30,000-square-foot expanded area in the casino in March. Mr. Thompson said Thursday that the bingo hall seats 540.

In November, the casino launched its new Cascades gaming and entertainment area, a 40,000-square-foot expansion to the existing facility. It includes new slot machines and table games as well as a high-end bar and a high-stakes gambling room with $50 per play slot machines. Mr. Thompson said the casino now holds 1,525 slot machines.

In total, the casino has grown to 105,000 square feet, according to officials’ previous statements. It now has a new sports bar, Sticks, and steak house, The Maple Room.

In March of last year, the tribe signed a $110 million deal with Key Bank to pay for the project as well as to refinance existing casino debt.

Mr. LaFrance previously stated that the tribe had about 90 assistance programs available when the casino opened in the late 1990s, but now, with the extra gaming monies, that has expanded to more than 200. He said he would like to see some of the new revenues go toward gambling addiction treatment, heating fuel assistance, scholarships, drug prevention education for the public and drug preventative training for police.

Mr. LaFrance also noted previously that the Hogansburg-Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department will be getting a $1 million ladder truck, courtesy of casino revenues.

Following the ribbon-cutting, the chiefs said the casino will continue to expand, and they are considering a performance theater to host music events.


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