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Mohawk gaming makes heating assistance possible

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AKWESASNE, N.Y. -- In a land where Indian gaming has been a source of
physical conflict, political strife and international attention, gambling
has at least one benefit that can be celebrated unattested. On Nov. 28,
representatives from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in Akwesasne accepted two
checks totaling $360,000 from the reservation's two gaming establishments
to help heat the homes of the elderly and economically disadvantaged this

The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and the Mohawk Bingo Palace each presented
checks in the amount of $180,000. The money will be used by the tribe's Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program to offer $600 in the form of fuel
vouchers to 200 senior and 400 low-income households in Akwesasne.

Last year, the tribe offered fuel assistance to its senior citizens,
regardless of their income. The widespread benefits of that assistance led
to the tribe's decision to expand the program this year to include
low-income families. The tribe approached the two gaming establishments --
both tribally owned and located on the reservation -- and asked if they
could assist.

"They immediately responded and said they would do whatever it took to fund
this request," said Chief James Ransom.

To be eligible for the vouchers, families must reside in the southern, or
U.S., portion of the Mohawk territory. The reservation straddles the U.S.
-- Canada border; a separate program is set up to help families in the
northern/Canadian portion. The tribe's LIHEAP program assists 501 families
in the southern half each year.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, individual
households are likely to pay 48 percent more for natural gas this year than
last, 38 percent more for heating oil and 30 percent more for propane.

"This year, fuel costs are expected to increase substantially," said
Ransom. "For households heating with fuel oil, it is expected to increase
by 32 percent. Households can expect to pay an additional $378 per
household this heating season."

The casino, which opened in 1999, did not generate the profit many
anticipated in its early years but has boasted growing revenue

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"We are thrilled to have the profitability this year to fund these
essential programs," said Dianna Tarbell, the casino's general manager.

The bingo hall opened in 1985. A few years ago it was near bankruptcy, but
the addition of video lottery machines and a reorganization of
administration turned things around dramatically. From 2003 -- '04 the
establishment's profits quadrupled.

The decision by both gaming facilities to contribute to the needy this
winter is just one example of their contributions to the community. Both
establishments regularly participate in community fundraisers, including
the upcoming Mountain of Toys toy drive, which will bring Christmas gifts
to needy children this holiday season.

"I would like to note that one of the criticisms we often here about gaming
at Akwesasne is, 'When is the community going to benefit?'" said Ransom.
"While gaming now provides 58 percent of tribal revenues, the funding of
this special request is a strong statement that gaming is benefiting our

The profits of both establishments go directly into the tribe's general
fund. The general fund, which also receives money from Akwesasne
businesses, allows the tribe to contribute to essential programs on the
territory like the police department, Head Start program and Akwesasne Boys
and Girls Club. The gaming facilities now fund 58 percent of the general
fund, up from 38 percent in 2004.

Akwesasne Mohawks have never received per capita payments from the gaming
facilities, but that option has never been entirely ruled out.

"Per capita payments are an option for the future," said Ransom. "We have a
tremendous amount of unmet community needs that need to be fulfilled first.
For example, we anticipate a $2.5 million shortfall for health care in 2006
and gaming revenues will help us address that shortfall. Our tribal courts,
police and housing are other areas that need support."

The tribe hopes to provide fuel assistance in coming years as well.