It wasn’t called a grand opening for nothing.
More than 300 of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s impeccably dressed, closest friends and supporters attended a black tie gala grand opening of a $74 million casino expansion including the completion of an elegant new hotel. The casino expansion and hotel amenities have earned the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino a new name: the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.
The May 9th celebration began with the attendees gathered in the new Bingo Palace at one end of the expanded facility. The invitation-only event included some tribal members of the press, and dignitaries representing tribal, state and federal governments. The stage was lined with tribal dignitaries Chiefs Randy Hart, Ron LaFrance and Paul Thompson; sub-chiefs Shelley Jacobs, Michael L. Conners and Eric Thompson, and Paula Hart, a SRMT citizen and the Director of the Office of Indian Gaming within the Bureau of Indian Affairs. St. Regis Mohawk Director of Communications David Staddon was emcee for the evening.
All of the chiefs who spoke paid homage to the past. “The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s history is an aggregate of our past events – a mix of ups and downs, good and bad, but at the end of the day the real story is what we have made of ourselves,” Hart said. “Today our name in the gaming industry has changed with our relocation, expansion and hotel we are definitely more than a casino, we’re officially a resort – a place we can enjoy, a place where dreams can come true, I believe past leaders left for us hints of what was wanted or maybe what is required of today’s leaders. In their written words, health, education and welfare are the medicines of our well being and every day we are reminded by the words of our elders and in the faces of our children we are reminded of what the right thing to do is. We must pursue the path chosen by the people that will protect our way and assure our survival.”
The expansion project began in the fall of 2011 and affected virtually every area of the property on Route 37. Four restaurants in the existing casino were renovated, a bar was moved and reconfigured with a raised seating and stage area. A Poker Room was redesigned and Class II gaming was introduced.
A new Mohawk Bingo Palace was constructed that now accommodates 500 guests with a dedicated non-smoking section that can open into a huge area to host large events. Table games moved from the east side of the property to the west and added 30 tables along with a new High Limit Room with tables and slot machines. The slot gaming floor added 1,800 machines featuring new games such as Grease, Tarzan, Michael Jackson and Kiss.
Chief Ron LaFrance welcomed all the guests to the grand opening, which he called a “‘historic event.”
“The expansion is the right step towards achieving self sufficiency. Gaming has not always taken the path of least resistance,” he said, talking about some of the difficulties of the past. “Gaming is a way to achieve our goals, but it’s not the only way. It’s an amusement, a past time, a fun thing but it’s not a way of life,” LaFrance said. The Mohawk Bingo Palace, the casino expansion, and the hotel are successful tribal projects built on time, on budget “and looking pretty darned good,” LaFrance said. And the project was completed in 18 months while the existing casino continued to operate, he said. He thanked all the leaders who came before the current administration.
The addition of a seven-story 150-room hotel is the most remarkable aspect of the expansion. The new hotel includes a swimming pool, gym, spa, and convention facilities. It displays none of the gaudy extravagancies of Las Vegas, but instead displays an understated elegance in its fine materials – wood, stone, granite – and in the nuanced indigenous themes woven into the hall carpets, the textured wall coverings, and the earth tones of browns, yellows and red, offset by the purple of the precious wampum beads used in the Haudenosaunee treaty belts.
“You all look nice out there!” Chief Paul Thompson told the guests, many of whom were formally dressed. Thompson compared the opening of the expanded resort casino to the opening of the original casino in 1999 when hundreds attended, “Things have changed since then,” he said. “We had 1.6 million visitors last year and now we have 2,524 slot machines throughout the casino.” He thanked everyone from the Mohawk ironworkers who built the hotel structure and their unions, to previous tribal leaders. The $74 million project was financed by Key Bank. The project, he said, “evolved from a series of relationships” between previous tribal leaders and the construction providers. The next step, according to Thompson will be construction of a multi-thousand seat entertainment complex that will weave together a world class theater, a performing arts center and a concert hall.
After the speeches, the guests walked through the casino to one of the large ballrooms that was set up for dinner, music and dancing. The food was extravagant and included vast arrangements of fruits, vegetables and cheeses, asparagus wrapped in asiago and baked, mini beef wellingtons, filled bacon-wrapped scallops, roast beef, pork and chicken, and a room full of seafood.
The resort casino currently employs 900 people and 41 percent of them are tribal members. “That means we can pay a growing population of families here in Akwesasne,” Thompson said.