COVID shutdown means snake eyes for casino, tribe and local governments

WWNY COVID shutdown means snake eyes for casino, tribe and local governments

HOGANSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - The Akwesasne Mohawk Casino isn’t paying out. When the casino shut down, so did revenue sharing. It’s taking a toll on counties, towns and the tribe.

Gambling at the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino helps fund things like road building in two counties and four towns. At least up until March it did. That’s when the casino closed due to COVID-19 and revenue sharing with localities stopped.

“It has been a huge impact,” said Massena Town Supervisor Steven O’Shaughnessy. “We didn’t pave roads and we didn’t have summer help. We cut back on when the library was open and how it was staffed.”

The casino pays the state a percentage of its revenues. That’s then divvied out to two counties and four towns.

In 2018, each county enjoyed a more than $1.2 million payout, while each town reaped more than $600,000.

“We use it for budgetary items in our town. Everything from tourism to infrastructure,” said O’Shaughnessy.

When the money dried up, towns adjusted budgets. With larger budgets, the counties were better able to absorb the loss.

It’s not just the counties and towns that were impacted when the casino closed. The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has taken and even bigger financial hit.

At the casino, 750 people were laid off. The casino funds about 40 percent of the tribal government’s budget. So there were 310 layoffs there.

“Projects dried up, activities slowed down,” said Tsiorasa Barreiro, St. Regis Mohawk Tribe executive director.

Especially painful have been cuts to services like home improvements for elders, home heating aid and others.

“We’re humans first and foremost and the stress, the anxiety...that’s been the biggest toll is the mental health aspect,” said Barreiro.

The casino reopened in September. Customer levels remain depressed. The tribe says it must stabilize before it can begin revenue sharing again with localities.

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