OMAHA, Neb. — The National Indian Gaming Commission has again approved the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska’s plan to build a casino near Omaha, but after a decade of court hearings, the project’s future remains uncertain.
The commission’s ruling this week came nearly 10 years after it first approved the proposed casino in Carter Lake, Iowa.
Ponca Tribal Chairman Larry Wright Jr. celebrated the latest decision because building the casino would give the tribe significant new resources to help its members.
“This is an economic engine that will help our tribe move forward and diversify into other areas,” Wright said.
The tribe wants to build a casino with 2,000 slot machines, 50 table games and a 150-room hotel. It estimates the project would create 1,800 jobs.
Wright said he’s confident the casino will move forward.
The casino was opposed by Iowa and Nebraska and the city of Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is already home to several casinos just over the Missouri River from Omaha.
Geoff Greenwood, spokesman for Iowa’s attorney general, said the office is still reviewing the ruling and deciding whether to appeal. Suzanne Gage, spokeswoman for Nebraska’s attorney general, said that office is still reviewing the decision.
Nebraska does not permit gambling, but Iowa does and an American Indian tribe can offer gambling on land that it owns as long as gambling is legal in that state.
A consultant for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission estimated that in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the casino revenue in Iowa came from Nebraska residents who spent nearly $327 million.
Carter Lake originally sat on the east side of the Missouri River, which separates Iowa and Nebraska. But shifting and flooding in the late 1800s left the city on the west side of the river, just northeast of Omaha. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1892 that the city still belonged to Iowa.
The Ponca Tribe lost its status as a federally recognized tribe in 1962 and its Nebraska reservation was sold off. But the recognition was restored in 1990, and the tribe was allowed to place up to 1,500 acres in Knox and Boyd counties in Nebraska in federal trust as “restored lands.”
The tribe bought the 5-acre Carter Lake site in Iowa in 1999 and deeded it to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in trust for non-gambling purposes in February 2003. The tribe originally told Iowa officials that the land would be used for a health center.
The National Indian Gaming Commission decided that the promises the tribe’s attorney made in 2003 don’t prevent it from using the land for a casino now.