After Losing Future Casino Profits, Mayor Ness Says Street Repairs Could Suffer

By KBJR News 1

November 22, 2011 Updated Nov 22, 2011 at 11:14 PM CDT

DULUTH, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - Duluth Mayor Don Ness says the city is considering an appeal to a federal judge's ruling involving shared revenues from the Fond du Luth Casino.

The judge ruled yesterday the Band is relieved of making future payments to the city, outlined in agreements made in 1994.

Under those agreements, the city received gaming revenue for allowing the operation of a casino in Downtown.

The city has received $80 million as part of that deal, but since 2009, the Band stopped paying the city its "rent" saying those payments would be in violation of the Federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, designed to protect the Band's sole propriety interest.

The Band was given a Notice of Violation from the National Indian Gaming Commission earlier this year, and Ness says their opinion obviously had weight with the judge.

"It doesn't make sense to me that an opinion of a political appointee can somehow invalidate and contract that's signed by both parties and approved by the federal courts."

In recent years, the city has used its share of gaming proceeds for street improvement repairs, so new funds will have to be found.

Mayor Don Ness says without that money, street repairs will suffer.

"That is very concerning. It would be damaging to the City of Duluth. You know, we've made a lot of progress on fixing our city streets over the past three years and it was desperately needed but if we stop making those investments, our streets are going to very quickly fall apart again."

The mayor says the casino contract was meant to benefit the Band and the community.

As for the casino, Mayor Ness says it has brought its share of problems for the downtown area.

"The casino takes up a lot of parking in our downtown and negatively impacts the retail establishments in several blocks surrounding the casino. You know, there are additional societal issues that arise from having a casino in the City of Duluth."

He says the Band would not be obligated to pay taxes to the City because the land the casino sits on is tribal land.

The mayor is hopeful an agreement can still be reached to benefit both the city and the Fond Du Lac Band.

There are still some legal issues that need to be ironed out regarding the casino.

A trial is pending to sort out a dispute over funding involving the marketing of the casino.

At that time the court will rule on the amount the band owes the city for rent it has withheld since 2009.

Some estimates put that figure at $14 million.

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