Ponca Tribal Casino to Open on Nebraska-Iowa Border, Despite Federal Lawsuit to Stop It

Posted on: October 26, 2018, 06:07h. 

Last updated on: October 26, 2018, 06:07h.

As the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has discovered, the problem with developing a tribal border casino is you’re in danger of being sued by two states instead of just one.

Still standing: A statue of famous tribal chief Standing Bear whose daughter, Prairie Flower, lends her name to the casino. Because of a geographical quirk, the Iowa border casino is almost completely surrounded by gamble-free Nebraska. (Image: Indianz.com)

Nevertheless, the tribe announced Thursday it will open its Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, Iowa, at noon on November 1, despite a pending federal legal challenge from both Nebraska, Iowa, and the City of Council Bluffs.

The project’s first phase will include 9,500 square feet of space and 200 slot-style games, according to a press release.

Eleven-Year Legal Battle

The casino is named for the daughter of the famous Ponca tribal chief Standing Bear, and the tribe is hoping that it will emulate Standing Bear’s success in a federal courtroom when the case comes to be heard.

In 1879, Standing Bear successfully argued that a US District Court that Native Americans were “persons within the meaning of the law,” winning the right of habeus corpus.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit argue that the plot of land in Carter Lake is not eligible for a casino because it is not part of the lands restored to the tribe by an act of Congress in 1990 — the Ponca purchased the land in 1999.

The lawsuit names the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) and the Department of the Interior as defendants.

The plaintiffs successfully sued to halt the project in 2007, after it had been approved by the NIGC, but an appellate court sent the proposal back to the NIGC where it had been under consideration until last year, when it was rubberstamped again.

Nebraska’s Problem

Iowa is concerned about the threat the Prairie Flower poses to existing commercial casino operations in the area, which could ultimately eat into tax revenues. Nebraska, meanwhile, prohibits casino gaming and does not want another facility on its doorstep.

As the Omaha World-Herald explains, “Carter Lake is a geographical anomaly, a 2-square-mile piece of Iowa territory that is west of the Missouri River — and almost surrounded by Nebraska — because of a change in the river’s course in 1877.”

As far as Nebraska is concerned the Prairie Flower may as well be “in” Nebraska.

“Since one cannot travel to or from Carter Lake without traveling through Nebraska, this means that Carter Lake’s gambling problem will become Nebraska’s gambling problem,” said Suzanne Gage, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska AG’s office in June.