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NIGC Again Rules Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Can Operate its Casino in Iowa

Since the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska began building its casino on Tribal land in Iowa, the Tribe has been hit with legal attempts to intervene. But this week the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled in favor of the Tribe, affirming its earlier decision that the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska can operate its Prairie Flower Casino on Tribal lands in Iowa — which are eligible for gambling.

The Poncas purchased the land in Carter Lake, a city in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, and a suburb just north of Omaha, Nebraska, in 1999, and after a decade-long legal battle with the City of Council Bluffs, Iowa — home to three state-regulated casinos — and the States of Iowa and Nebraska. The Tribe opened Prairie Flower Casino in November 2018. Nebraska opposes more casinos within the state’s borders, and the small Iowa municipality sits close to downtown Omaha.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska, which counts nearly 4,300 Tribal citizens, has intended to use casino proceeds to pay for Tribal programs and services, including a 60,000-square-foot health care clinic, job training, continuing education, land preservation and cultural arts. Meanwhile, the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska and the Prairie Flower Casino are committed to demonstrating support for the community by contributing $775,000 per year to Carter Lake to support police, fire and emergency responders, and for general community improvement.

Prairie Flower Casino is named for the daughter of Standing Bear, a 19th century Ponca chief. Prairie Flower Casino honors the young woman who passed away during the Tribe’s 1877 Trail of Tears.

Her father gained notoriety two years later, arguing before the U.S. District Court proceeding in Omaha that Native Americans must be identified as “persons within the meaning of the law.” Before that, they were not.

“Our people lost not only land and holdings, but our culture and language, because of forced assimilation,” said Ponca Tribal Chairman Larry Wright, Jr. “This will go a long way towards helping and bridging those gaps,” he said of Prairie Flower Casino.

“Casinos aren’t a panacea, but they’ll help us to diversify and be self-sustaining,” Wright added, in an interview with omaha.com.

The historical lands of the Ponca people were in northern Nebraska. The federal government withdrew its recognition of the Tribe in 1962, and restored federal recognition in 1990.

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