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Casino unveils expansion work at Akwesasne operation

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AKWESASNE - The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino recently launched its 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.

In addition to the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council, heads of local chambers of commerce were in attendance and all seemed excited for the economic potential the expansion brings to the region.

Casino General Manager Patrick Bassney said the Cascades expansion won’t bring many new jobs, but once the entire project is complete, which includes opening a new hotel and combining with the existing Mohawk Bingo Palace, their total workforce will be over 900.

“It’s good economic news for the north country,” Malone Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hugh Hill said.

Massena Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mike Gleason echoed his sentiment.

“We appreciate their ... economic development in the area,” he said. “It’s been a great economic impact for the area as far as jobs.”

Both directors said the Tribe and the casino are members of their chambers.

St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce CEO Pat McKeown said she hopes the new incoming revenues might be a spark that gets casino compact revenues flowing back to the surrounding counties and municipalities, who base their yearly budgets around an expectation of the monies.

“I am so optimistic that an agreement will be reached ... so the compact funds can be given to the neighboring communities,” she said. “We all keep our word. We are all good neighbors.”

Tribal Chief Ron LaFrance said he sees the casino expansion as a step towards the Tribe not having to rely on state and federal funds to function. The casino is a tribally-owned and operated business. The expansion was approved after a referendum vote by the Mohawk community.

“Every tribal government strives to provide more ... for its people,” Mr. LaFrance said.

Although the chiefs said there is no official self-sufficiency plan in place, they said they are hopeful to be able to fund more programs for the Akwesasne community. Mr. LaFrance said the Tribe had about 90 assistance programs available when the casino opened in the late 1990s, but now with the extra revenue that has expanded to over 200.

He said he would like to see some of the new revenues go toward heating fuel assistance, scholarships, drug prevention education for the public and drug preventative training for police. He added the Hogansburg-Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department will be getting a $1 million ladder truck, courtesy of gaming monies.

They did not say if new revenues would impact the withheld compact funds.

Mr. Bassney said the expansion came out of necessity to meet the needs of guests, to freshen up the atmosphere, and to maintain a competitive edge with other regional gaming destinations such as the Turning Stone Casino.

Both he and Mr. LaFrance said the Tribe had feasibility studies conducted before launching the expansion.

All the indications showed this was the right move to make, according to the tribal chief.

Tribal Chief Paul Thompson said the Tribe is hoping to make the casino a getaway destination and thinks the new entertainment venue can make that happen.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to Las Vegas or Atlantic City, but we can afford to bring those people here,” he said.

The next phases of the casino expansion will be to combine with the Mohawk Bingo Palace and open the 150-room hotel Mr. Bassney said he is hoping for a completion date by March 2013. The expansion’s total price tag is $74.7 million, which was loaned from Key Bank.

“Let’s get out there and spend your money,” Mr. Thompson said.

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