AKWESASNE — The first guests were directed by a pair of unimpressive flashing signs on Route 37, alerting drivers that the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino was straight ahead.
“We had 100 table games and cardboard cutouts of slot machines,” laughed Darlene Dilcox, who is director of casino services.
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“And they had signs on them that said ‘Coming soon,’” added Terrilee Ransom-Hill, the director of building operations and security.
That was April 11, 1999, the grand opening of the gaming operation owned by the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, and about 250 people were there.
“Our first year, the goal was to have 2,000 people a day, but we were not getting that a week,” Ransom-Hill laughed.
Today, the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort has an average of 1.6 million guests visit each year, “so we’re definitely a success story,” Dilcox said.
The operation now boasts 1,525 slot machines, 38 gaming tables and a 540-seat bingo parlor with another 250 gaming machines inside. There’s also a 150-room hotel with a swimming pool and full-service Sweetgrass Spa.
“Sweetgrass plays a very important part in our culture, especially our basketmaking,” Ransom-Hill said when asked about the name. “It is a fragrant grass that’s very soothing.”
The top floor of the hotel features the presidential suites for high rollers who also use the Maple Room at the casino for dinner.
The merger of the Mohawk Bingo Palace operation with the casino has made the resort a one-stop destination for gamblers and bingo players alike.
“We are starting our bus trips on April 13, and now people can come and stay instead of driving four, six, eight hours back,” Ransom-Hill said.
“The hotel opens up our whole marketing,” Dilcox said.
The casino employs 980 people, and 39 percent are Native Americans.
The hotel has 68 employees, “and 67 of them are Native,” Dilcox said.