Duluth mayor threatens to close casino over money spat

fond-du-luth-casino.jpg The Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth, Minn. was the state’s first jointly run gambling operation. (MPR Photo/Dan Kraker)

By Dan Kraker

Duluth, Minn. — The city of Duluth laid out its strategy Thursday in an increasingly fractious dispute with the Fond du Lac Ojibwe Band.

For the past two years, Duluth and the band have been fighting over revenue generated at the downtown Fond du Luth casino.

A federal judge ruled last month the Band is no longer obligated to share slot machine earnings with the city. If upheld, that would cost the city about $6 million a year.


The city has appealed. If the ruling stands, Duluth may have another option. Mayor Don Ness said the original contract would then allow the city to close the casino.

“We become the leaseholder, and no gaming can take place on that site without the written consent of the city,” Ness said. “That is the protection that we have, and we need to be ready to exercise those rights.”

Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver disagrees with that assessment, and said Duluth has not reached out to the Band to try to resolve their differences.

“I’m a little dismayed that the mayor continues to keep this issue in the public eye,” Diver said. “It really seems that he is trying to cultivate some racial intolerance against the Band and its members.”

The mayor said he’s never made the dispute into a racial issue. Rather, he said, it’s simply a very public contractual disagreement.

  • Len Kirchens

    I’m glad to see that Duluth’s economy is doing so well that they can just throw away this thriving business and not have to worry about the consequences. Most cities in this state are trying to create jobs, so for Mayor Ness to be so confident in the city’s growth that he wants to shed several thousand jobs? Well that’s just fantastic. People will long remember Mayor Ness for having the political courage to further weaken the Duluth economy to get back at a judge for ruling against him.

    Viva la Donnie!

  • Joe

    Duluth gets screwed out of millions of dollars and the tribe brings up race. Go figure.

  • Mac

    Good for the mayor! Finally, somebody with a spine to go head-to-head with a tribe. This isn’t about race…the only person to mention that is the casino.

    Tribes are always bringing up ancient treaties in order to reap benefits for their descendants. Now when Duluth tries to stay true to the ORIGINAL CONTRACT, the tribe is trying to fight it. It ain’t a one way street. They are getting way too greedy.

    Either the casino needs to uphold their end of the agreement, or the casino needs to be closed…or even better, taken over by the city.

  • Fety

    Did someone seriously just say that the tribe is getting greedy? I am certainly scratching my head over this one – Mac was being sarcastic, right?

  • Susan J

    The city of Duluth and the Tribe agreed to a contract in which the casino was allowed to open within city limits. In exchange for the license to operate the casino off sovereign land, Duluth would earn a share of the profits on slots. The Tribe now says they don’t need to share the profits, so I believe its within the city’s rights to terminate the contract that allows the business to operate within Duluth’s city limits. The casino cannot be allowed to stay open if the Tribe is not upholding their side of the agreement.

    I hope the Mayor keeps up the fight.

  • Challis AfraidofHawk

    U white people are the greedy onez lol look in the mirror you 2 faced People

  • maaiingun

    I’ve read that the land the casino sits on was ceaded land, and is now wholly the property of the sovereign nation of fond du lac. Wouldn’t this be something of an international incident then? Akin to the mayor trying to tell the canadian prime minister what to do on canadian soil. I’m not a fond du lac band member. I am glad for them that they are exercising their rights. Hey chairperson, buy all the land back that you can for the band and expand the res before cheemooks forcefully take away your rights again.

  • jennifer

    “trying to cultivate some racial intolerance against the Band and its members” pretty ballsy words considering Fond Du Lac hiring practices, and how non native employees are treated! shame on you Karen Diver! If it’s racial intolerance you’re concerned with, you need to look in your own back yard!

  • Mark Egert

    I applaud the Mayor, he is standing up for the city and protecting the citizens of Duluth. Don’t back down and if Ms. Driver refuses to use common sense, shut it down.

    Shame on Ms. Driver for trying to take this debate out of the public, that is exactly where it should be. It appears to me she is the one that is refusing to compromise and it is absolutely depressing that she is bringing up race.

  • maaiingun

    You white people aren’t happy when you see others succeed. This is extortion!