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St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Approves $75 Million Casino Expansion and Merger

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The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe of New York voted in favor of a $74.7 million casino expansion, including a seven-story hotel with 150 guest rooms, spa, pool and a conference center, reported North Country Now and the tribe's newsletter.

The tribe will move the 30-year-old Mohawk Bingo Palace, reportedly showing its age, from the reservation's west side to the site of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg (Akwesasne), New York.

In the April 30 referendum, the tribe's members approved the project in a 391 to 286 vote. The unofficial results will be certified by the Tribal Election Board after a five-day period, pending any appeals, stated the tribe's news alert.

The merged Akwesasne Mohawk Casino and Mohawk Bingo Palace operations will consist of approximately 2,000 Class II and Class III electronic gaming machines, stated the tribe's newsletter. Construction might begin as early as May, reported the Press Republican.

"All profits from the expansion and the new hotel would go to us [the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe] in the form of benefits and services," wrote Ray Cook, Mohawk Nation citizen and op-ed editor of Indian Country Today Media Network, amongst other positions, in a March 14 editorial for

The tribe's "How Gaming Benefits Our Community" booklet for 2009-10 reveals the tremendous growth of the Akwesasne Mohawk Gaming enterprises, which have generated more than $79.1 million to the tribe since 2003. Gaming revenue is the primary source of the Tribal General Fund, which supports tribally-operated programs and services, including college scholarships and medical assistance, as well as community organizations, such as the Akwesasne Boys and Girls Club, the Hogansburg/Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department, the Senior’s Center and the Akwesasne Mohawk Ambulance Unit. "We also provide direct support to community members through our Home Heating Fuel Assistance Program, various sports teams and our Home Repair Program," stated the booklet.

The tribe proposed the move and expansion after a feasibility study revealed the merged facilities, with a hotel, could generate a profit increase of 118 percent over the combined gaming operation’s 2010 profits. The tribe's 2010 consolidated gaming operating profit (unaudited) was $39,263, according to the tribe's newsletter "Casino Expansion Information." The tribe's 2015 profit projection for the combined facilities with the hotel is $85,635. The tribe also anticipates an increase in gaming-related permanent jobs and construction contracts/jobs for tribal members, a market expansion due to new outreach to overnight guests, new income through meeting and banquet facilities that will draw conference business, overall Akwesasne economic development and the ability to compete with casinos in the Ottawa/Montreal markets.

The proposal also comes just as its lease on the bingo operation's parking lot expires in 2012. The facility's maintenance costs were also increasing, reported the Indian Time news journal.

The newsletter also notes that initial discussions with financing institutions indicate that the tribe would receive very favorable financing rates at this time.

Still, the expansion may present risks to the tribe, such as borrowing money to fund the expansion and merger. "The Tribe will not spend Tribal government funds," stated the newsletter. "The Tribal corporation will borrow money from a bank or banks. The loan will be repaid from revenues from the Tribe’s gaming operations and from nothing else."

Indian Country Today Media Network has also learned that the proposed expansion is ardently opposed by a entrepreneurial family incorporated under Tribal law as the Tarbell Management Group, a company that has various businesses, including one mega-sized truckstop/convenience store and two medium-sized fuel stations/convenience stores on the reservation, a cigarette manufacturing plant, a fuel distribution company that ships fuel to various New York State-based Tribal businesses including several Seneca Nation-based stores. Tarbell Management Group's family company TL Lodging Inc. has plans to expand the Comfort Inn Hotel & Suites Akwesasne that it manages and operates, located adjacent to the Casino property.