Duluth mayor threatens to close casino over money spat

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.

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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.