Ponca Tribe Gets Go-Ahead to Build Carter Lake Casino

Posted on: November 16, 2017, 02:00h. 

Last updated on: November 16, 2017, 11:09h.

Ponca Tribe casino
Tribal chairman Larry Wright Jr. expressed satisfaction that the Ponca Tribe’s rights to build on their land had been reaffirmed. (Image: Ponca Tribe of Nebraska)

After decades of legal battles, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska received word in Wednesday that the National Indian Gaming Commission has determined that the tribe can go forward with plans to build a casino.

The tribe would like to build the facility on five acres of land that they own in Carter Lake, Iowa.

For Larry Wright Jr., chairman of the Ponca Tribe, the decision came as a vindication of the many years the tribe had spent fighting for the ability to build on their land.

“They have reaffirmed the tribe’s sovereign right to conduct gaming here,” Wright told the Omaha World-Herald. “We look forward to having a respectful and productive dialogue with the appropriate officials in Iowa.”

Opposition on Both Sides of the Border

Those discussions are likely to be the next major sticking point for the proposed venue. Government officials in both Iowa and Nebraska have been the primary opponents of the project, and it is unclear whether either state plans to appeal the decision or pursue other legal avenues in an effort to keep up their opposition.

Opponents see the casino as a potential threat on both sides of the border. In Iowa, the nearby and privately-owned Council Bluffs casinos would face competition from a Carter Lake facility.

Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh said his city expected to receive about $3 million in gaming taxes this year. But while he knows a new casino in the region would cut into that total, he says he wouldn’t expect a significant problem.

“While it would cannibalize some of it, my sense is that it would not be a huge amount,” Walsh said.

On the other side of the border, Nebraska does not allow casino gambling. However, the proposed site for the gaming venue would be just minutes from Omaha, which has led to concerns from anti-gambling advocates who feel that’s too close for comfort.

Stuck in the middle is Carter Lake itself. City Councilman Ron Cumberledge says that if the proposal would help his city, he’d be all for it.

“Our whole goal for the next four years is economic development,” Cumberledge said. “If they bring an opportunity to our town, sure, I’m for that.”

Commission Upholds 2007 Ruling

This was the second time the National Indian Gaming Commission has reaffirmed the Ponca Tribe’s right to use their land for a casino. The commission first came to that conclusion in 2007, after which a Court of Appeals ruling sent it back for a second review.

The key issue in the second review was whether tribal lawyer had made an oral agreement that the tribe would not conduct gaming activities on the land that had been put into trust. But the commission rejected that argument, upholding their initial ruling.

“Upon review of the validity of the agreement between Iowa and the Tribe’s attorney, we conclude that the agreement is invalid and does not stop the Tribe from gaming under IGRA’s restored lands exception,” the committee wrote.

The tribe says they plan to move forward with developing a project similar to one they proposed in 2007. That facility would have included 2,000 slots, 50 table games, and a 150-room hotel.