Second time lucky for Ponca Tribe after casino approval?

By Robert Simmons
The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has received approval from the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) to build a casino in Carter Lake, Iowa almost ten years after the commission approved a previous and identical application for the same site.

Once completed, the development would encompass a 150-room hotel with 2,000 slot machines and 50 table games, with tribal leaders claiming that the project will create over 1,800 jobs.

In an interview with Associated Press, Ponca Tribal chairman Larry Wright Jr praised the NIGC for its decision saying: “They have reaffirmed the tribe’s sovereign right to conduct gaming here,” Wright said. “We look forward to having a respectful and productive dialogue with the appropriate officials in Iowa.”

The city of Carter Lake was originally part of Iowa, sitting on the east side of the Missouri River but land shifts and flooding in the region during the late 1800s resulted in the city moving to the west side of the river, near to the city of Omaha, Nebraska. However in 1892, the US Supreme Court ruled that the city still effectively belonged to Iowa.

In 1962, the Ponca Tribe lost its federally-recognised tribal status, which indirectly led to the sale of Nebraska reservation land. Eventually this status was restored in 1990, with the tribe being allowed to establish almost 1,500 acres of “restored lands” in Knox and Boyd County.

Tribal officials bought the five-acre Carter Lake site in 1999, placing it into trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 2003. As part of this trust the tribe agreed that the land would be used for non-gambling purposes, with the tribe earmarking the site for a health centre.

Casino gambling is currently legal in Iowa but illegal in Nebraska, with a lot of Nebraskans crossing state lines to gamble at Iowan casinos.

In 2007 the tribe submitted an application to the NIGC to build a casino on the site which was approved but that application was later overturned following a federal lawsuit filed by Iowa, Nebraska and the City of Council Bluffs.

An 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling reversed this decision and ordered the case to be reviewed a second time by the NIGC in 2010. In its review, the NIGC dismissed the 2007 decision to overturn the tribes application stating on the grounds that “the Carter Lake parcel is restored lands for a restored tribe.”

National Indian Gaming Commission Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Clause stated: “We appreciate the parties’ patience throughout this process. Since this matter was remanded, the Commission coordinated and consulted with the Department of the Interior and heard from all interested parties through the additional briefing. As a result, I am confident that today’s decision is both thorough and well-reasoned.”

A spokesperson for Iowa’s Attorney General’s office said that it is considering whether to appeal the decision, however Chairman Wright remained upbeat about the future of the development adding: "Now we can talk about real growth, real change and real development for our people."


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