Tribe-City Conflict Continues in Minnesota

The battle continues between the Fond du Lac Band and the city of Duluth. The National Indian Gaming Commission ordered the tribe to stop its $6 million annual revenue sharing payments to Duluth. The city has lost court battles to get its money back. Still, both sides want to settle the issue.

The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and the city of Duluth, Minnesota still are miles apart regarding the tribe’s casino payments to the city. From 1986 to 2009, the tribe paid the city a portion of profits from its Fond-du-Luth Casino in downtown Duluth in lieu of property taxes, contributing to the city more than million, or 19 percent of electronic gaming profits. But in 2009 the National Indian Gaming Commission said such agreements are illegal and required the tribe to stop making the million annual payments to the city, which it used for road repairs.

City officials have challenged that ruling, but recently a federal judge rejected the city’s suit against the tribe; the city may appeal that ruling. In a separate but related matter, a federal appeals court is considering whether the Fond du Lac tribe must pay the city $13 million in back payments.

Speaking at the recent Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, Fond du Lac Band Chairperson Karen Diver said her government is willing to pay for city services at its Duluth casino, but city officials have not negotiated in good faith to reach an agreement. Diver said, “We have been in conversations that unfortunately have not been fruitful.” She also accused city officials of disparaging the band.

In response, Duluth Mayor Don Ness said, “We committed to a week of mediation in January, but even as we pretty much agreed to their conditions, as far as a fee for services, they walked out. It was very disappointing. I really had high hopes that would be the chance for us to settle this in a way that would benefit both communities.”

Ness said the band wanted to acquire the city parking lot adjacent to the casino as part of a deal. Diver said as part of the deal, the tribe requested the city parking lot next to the casino. But she said the city wanted $2 million annually instead of property taxes and that could not be justified. “We offered them the full taxes for what the building is assessed for. That would have been $200,000 each year. They could have had all of it. But there is no way the National Indian Gaming Commission would allow $2 million. There’s no service to justify that kind of fee. We were just too far apart, and the mediator agreed with us to end it,” Diver said.

She added, “We’re still willing to settle this.” Ness said, “We remain committed to working something out.”