Future still uncertain for Mohawk Bingo Palace
Following a public meeting Saturday at the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, there still hasn’t been a definite decision made as to whether Tribal Council will move the Mohawk Bingo Palace to a structure connected to the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino. The same proposal includes plans to construct a 7-story casino hotel.
Both plans have been criticized by community members. Some patrons of the Mohawk Bingo Palace are loyal customers who want to remain in the same atmosphere they’ve been playing bingo in since the 1980s. The Mohawk Bingo Palace is also considered to cater to an older crowd than the casino.
Plans to expand the casino by adding a hotel have also been criticized, for the $75 million debt the tribe would incur, and for entering into business competition with tribal members who own hotels in Akwesasne.
However, the casino and bingo hall management, Tribal Council, and other community members believe the plan will increase tribal gaming revenue and resolve the issue of needing a new location for the Mohawk Bingo Palace.
“The feasibility study says that a combined Class II and Class III facility here makes the most business sense,” said the SRMT’s attorney Michele Mitchell. “It reduces your overhead. There’s marketing advantages to it. The older lady can go play bingo, the husband can play blackjack.”
The Mohawk Bingo Palace would re-locate to the casino’s Sprung structure that currently houses some slot machines, a bar, restrooms and a poker room. A main entrance would be constructed to keep the building somewhat separate from the main casino, although the two operations would remain connected.
“We understood its need to keep its own identity,” said Mitchell.
The hotel is expected to be a 3 ½ star hotel with a swimming pool, small spa, conference rooms, and an all-suite seventh floor.
Hogansburg-Akwesasne Volunteer Fire Department Police Chief Derek Comins told Tribal Council that previous plans to build a multi-story hotel included funds to provide the HAVFD with a ladder truck and additional firefighting training. At present, they are not equipped or trained to battles fires that high, Comins said.
The expansion plans include converting Sticks Sports Bar into a coffee shop/café, creating additional gaming floor, and constructing a large lounge and center bar. Other minor renovations and improvements to the existing structure are planned as well.
Mitchell said that the casino has done all they can for “day-trippers” and that now they need to construct a hotel to serve their clientele.
“Our competition is Montreal, it’s Ottawa, and those are very nice casinos with very nice hotels,” she said. “If we’re going to compete, we’re going to have to offer certain amenities.”
The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s lease at the Mohawk Bingo Palace expires in 2012, which was used as a base timeline for project developers. If the Tribal Council approves the project to move forward, it has been phased to begin as early as April 2011, with the hotel being one of the last phases in 2012.
“Our balance sheet shows that we can support this debt,” Mitchell said.
The casino and Mohawk Bingo Palace have combined annual revenue (EBITDA) of approximately $39 million. $15 million is put in the Tribal General Fund from the casino and $6 million is moved to the TGF from the Mohawk Bingo Palace.
However, the Mohawk Bingo Palace has seen their numbers slowly decreasing since 2007, Mitchell said.
“We believe some of those gamblers have already moved on to the casino,” she said.
Community members have asked for a community referendum on the expansion. Although Tribal Council is not legally required to hold one, they have not yet denied the request.
“The St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council has to make a decision on how to proceed,” Mitchell said.