Although it would be a “last resort,” Duluth, Minnesota Mayor Don Ness recently said he would shut down the Fond-du-Luth Casino if the city and the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa are unable to negotiate a new profit-sharing agreement. “Our goal is to come to an agreement, and we will allow adequate time,” Ness said. However, he added, “We need to get this done in a timely way.”
Ness said at a news conference the city’s 1986 contract with the band gives it the authority to prohibit all gambling at the casino if the profit-sharing agreement becomes invalid. In response, Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver said, “The band believes the mayor is reaching in his legal opinion.” She said Ness was “saber-rattling” and “trying to influence public opinion in a negative way toward the band. He’s promoting hatred, and it’s irresponsible.”
The 1986 agreement guaranteed that the tribe could exclusively operate a casino in the city, and the city would receive 19 percent of video gaming proceeds, or about $6 million annually. In 2009, the tribe stopped sharing profits with the city. Last year, the chairwoman of the National Indian Gaming Commission determined the tribe’s agreement with Duluth was improper and ordered it to stop making payments.
In November, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Nelson ruled that the tribe did not have to make further payments to the city as of April 2011, although the same court said the tribe had to pay the city $12 million-$14 million in back payments withheld from 2009 to March 2011. The city and the tribe both have appealed the decision.
Diver said another court would need to overrule Nelson for the city to stop gambling at the casino.
Ness said the agreement between the city and the tribe had served both parties well for more than 20 years. However, he said Duluth would consider finding another casino partner if the Fond du Lac Band will no longer share any of its profits with the city.