HOGANSBURG The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino has launched its Cascades gaming and entertainment area, a 40,000-square-foot expansion to the facility that includes more machines and table games as well as a high-stakes gambling room with $50 per play slots.
The heads of local chambers of commerce, attending Thursdays opening, seemed excited about the economic potential that the $74.7 million expansion offers.
Casino general manager Patrick J. Bassney said the Cascades expansion wont bring many new jobs, but once the entire project is complete including a new hotel the total work force will be more than 900.
Its good economic news for the north country, Malone Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Hugh Hill said.
Massena Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Michael J. Gleason echoed his sentiment.
We appreciate their ... economic development in the area, he said. Its been a great economic impact for the area as far as jobs.
St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia L. McKeown said she hopes the revenue from the expansion might be a spark that gets casino compact revenue flowing back to the surrounding communities, which base their yearly budgets on an expectation of the money.
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 Ronald W. LaFrance said he sees the casino expansion as a step toward tribal independence from reliance on state and federal funds to function. The expansion was approved in 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 hope 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 that has expanded to more than 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 prevention training for police. He added that the Hogansburg-Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department will get a $1 million ladder truck, courtesy of gambling proceeds.
The chiefs did not say whether additional revenue from the expansion would affect the tribes withholding gambling compact funds because of an ongoing dispute with the state over exclusivity.
Mr. Bassney said the expansion was necessity to meet the needs of guests, to freshen up the atmosphere and to maintain a competitive edge with other regional gambling destinations such as the Turning Stone Casino in Verona.
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, Mr. LaFrance said.
Money for the project was lent by Key Bank.
Chief Paul O. Thompson said the tribe is hoping to make the casino a getaway destination and he thinks the new entertainment venue can make that happen.
A lot of people cant 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 it with the Mohawk Bingo Palace and open the 150-room hotel. Mr. Bassney said he is hoping for work to be complete in March.