Gaming machines are seen at the Prairie Flower Casino, owned and operated by the Ponca Tribe in Carter Lake, Iowa. Courtesy photo

Ponca Tribe scores another decision in favor of gaming rights

The Ponca Tribe can engage in gaming on its trust land in Iowa, federal regulators ruled for a third time in the long-running saga.

As a tribe that was restored to federal recognition, the Poncas are entitled to operate a casino on restored lands in Carter Lake, the National Indian Gaming Commission said on April 30. The decision came after a federal judge cast doubt on the status of the Prairie Flower Casino, which opened last October amid ongoing litigation.

“The National Indian Gaming Commission reaffirmed what we have known to be true for over a decade: The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska has the right to operate Prairie Flower Casino on their tribal land in Carter Lake, Iowa,” attorney James Meggesto said in a statement.

Indianz.Com Video by Kevin Abourezk: Ponca Tribe Celebrates Opening of New Casino

The third decision in favor of the tribe was signed by NIGC Chairman Jonodev Chaudhuri, who will be leaving the agency after more than five years of service, and by NIGC Vice Chair Kathryn Isom-Clause. E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, the third member of the NIGC, did not sign it.

A final decision from the NIGC requires approval of at least two of the three commissioners.

Chaudhuri, who is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, will be stepping down on May 15. He was nominated to serve as chairman by former president Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate four years ago.

"During my time as Chairman, the commission worked hard at every turn to stress strong partnerships and consistent communication with tribal gaming operations to achieve compliance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act," Chaudhuri said in a news release. Chaudhuri served as vice chair of the NIGC prior to being elevated to the higher-ranking post.

Chaudhuri and Isom-Clause, who is from the Pueblo of Taos, were the two commissioners who signed the decision in favor of the Ponca Tribe's gaming rights back in 2017. Opponents in Iowa and Nebraska went to court to challenge the determination and secured a ruling last month that required the NIGC to take yet another look at the issue.

That ruling resulted in the NIGC's new decision on Tuesday. The federal government filed notice of the decision in court on Wednesday.

The tribe's land in Carter Lake was placed in trust in 2003. Generally, land acquired after the passage of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988 cannot be used for gaming.

But Section 20 of the law contains exceptions to that general rule. According to the NIGC, the "restored lands" exception applies to the Poncas because they were restored to federal recognition after their government-to-government relationship had been terminated by Congress.

Read More on the Story
National Indian Gaming Commission rules to keep Carter Lake casino open (The Omaha World-Herald May 2, 2019)
Ponca Tribe scores win in fight to keep Iowa casino open (The Associated Press May 2, 2019)
Casino cleared for third time in major victory for Ponca Tribe (KETV May 2, 2019)

National Indian Gaming Commission Documents
April 30, 2019 | November 14, 2017 Decision | December 31, 2007 Decision

8th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Nebraska v. Department of Interior (October 19, 2010)

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