Akwesasne Mohawk Casino makes big changes to reopen safely

Published: Aug. 28, 2020 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 28, 2020 at 9:14 PM EDT
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HOGANSBURG, N.Y. (WCAX) - The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino in Hogansburg, New York, reopens next week. Eight coronavirus cases pushed back the original opening date in July.

When the casino opens back up on Monday, there will be some noticeable differences. One is you can’t get in without a mask. They let our Kelly O’Brien inside the casino to check out the changes.

Right when you walk in, you’ll have a screening asking where you live, if you have any symptoms and if you’ve recently been in a group larger than 25 people. You’ll have your temperature checked with your mask on; it won’t work without it.

“These are some of the things that we are putting in place to protect you and our associates and most importantly the community of Akwesasne,” said Todd Papineau, the general manager of the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort.

Once in the casino, you’ll see more changes. Machines have been taken out to allow for six feet in between, also no tabletop games or bingo.

To ensure mask and social distancing requirements are followed, there is no smoking or drinking at all when inside.

If you fail to follow the COVID protocols, you will be asked to leave.

“Once we get rolling along, maybe four or six, eight weeks later, we will start to revisit some of these prohibitions that we are opening with,” Papineau said.

The full capacity is over 5,000 but they want to keep the numbers low to reduce the spread of COVID-19 so they are capping it at 750.

You will see a lot more cleaning.

“Sanitize every gaming machine after a player withdraws their gaming card from that machine. It will notify them that you are done with the machine and they will come over and disinfect it for you,” said Charlotte LaFrance, the director of hotel operations.

You heard that right-- every machine will be cleaned after use in addition to the nightly spray-down with their electrostatic spray system.

“The electrostatic spray system covers every surface, 360 degrees,” LaFrance said.

The housekeeping staff of 40 is taking its role seriously to keep the place clean so the casino can stay open after five months shut down.

“Housekeeping is a vital role to our success,” LaFrance said. “It is imperative that we keep our property sanitized, disinfected and cleaned for our guests to use.”

The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino Resort is the largest employer on the reservation.

“It’s a huge impact that our closure had on the community,” Papineau said. “Many people work here and have worked here for a very long time.”

March 15 it got the order from the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe to close down and has remained closed ever since.

“It was very difficult to lay off the number of people that we did, just over 700 of our total workforce, which was 800,” Papineau said.

As more venues open inside the casino, more employees will be welcomed back.

“We are still concerned about the level of business that we will have, so we are making sure that our workforce fits our business levels,” Papineau said.

The resort lost a lot of money being closed for five months but hopes it can make up some of the lost revenues in the first four months of reopening.

While state-run casinos still can’t open, the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino will be the last Native casino in the state to open its doors.

“The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe-Akwesasne owns and operates this casino. It is here for generating revenues. Really it’s under their authority that we operate,” Papineau said.

The profits seen at the casino go right back into the community.

“There is a lot of people that rely on this for their livelihood and the tribal government also relies on the revenues here for many other programs they run. A lot of the funding comes from the profits that we make here,” Papineau explained.

The casino opens back up Monday at 9 a.m.

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