The Ponca Tribe celebrated its restoration to federal recognition during its 26th annual powwow in Niobrara, Nebraska, from August 9-11, 2019. Video: Grand Entry - August 10, 2019

Ponca Tribe scores another legal victory against casino opponents

The Ponca Tribe can continue to operate its gaming facility on its homelands in Iowa, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

In a 14-page decision, Judge Stephanie Rose rejected efforts by governmental parties in Iowa and Nebraska to force the closure of the Prairie Flower Casino. She noted that the National Indian Gaming Commission has once again confirmed the tribe's ability to use its trust lands for gaming.

“It’s time to put the lawsuits behind us and focus on our shared interest of bringing more economic growth the area," Chairman Larry Wright Jr. said in a statement quoted by The Omaha World-Herald and The Associated Press.

A drum group performs a Ponca honoring song during a grand opening ceremony at the Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake, Iowa, on October 31, 2018. Photo by Kevin Abourezk

The tribe opened the casino last October following more than a decade of litigation from Iowa and Nebraska. The facility is named for Prairie Flower, a daughter of famed Chief Standing Bear who died when her people were forced to leave their homelands by the federal government in 1877.

Thanks to Standing Bear's legal efforts, his people were allowed to stay on their homelands in present-day Iowa and Nebraska. But a hundred years later, the situation changed when the federal government terminated its government-to-government relationship with the tribe.

The pendulum shifted again when the tribe was restored to federal recognition in 1990. The Ponca Restoration Act identifies areas in the two states where the tribe can restore its homelands -- including the county where Prairie Flower is located.

On three separate occasions dating back to 2007, the NIGC has relied on the tribe's history in confirming the legality of gaming on its trust lands. The most recent decision came in April, after Rose directed the agency to consider additional factors.

Despite the NIGC's latest determination, the governmental parties in Iowa and Nebraska sought an order that would have forced the closure of Prairie Flower even before they took the case to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Rose essentially called their bluff in her decision on Monday.

Rose noted that the parties in Iowa and Nebraska argued that “the Ponca casino imposes economic and social welfare costs upon the surrounding communities, which impelled plaintiffs to file this lawsuit,” quoting from their filings.

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

But she noted that Iowa already permits gaming in the city of Council Bluffs, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

"It is not clear, however, how the tribe’s casino is any more detrimental than the three casinos, licensed by the state of Iowa, that are already operating in neighboring Council Bluffs," she wrote.

The Ponca Tribe's case was the subject of considerable discussion during the recent confirmation hearing of E. Sequoyah Simermeyer to serve as the new Chairman of the NIGC. Since joining the independent federal agency, he has refused to support the decisions in favor of the tribe, not just once but twice.

When asked about the matter by Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, Simermeyer refused to offer any details, citing the ongoing litigation. Despite his reticence, the committee on July 31 voted to advance his nomination to the full U.S. Senate.

The chamber is in recess until early September so Simermeyer must wait for further action before taking control of the NIGC. He was nominated to serve as Chairman by President Donald Trump.

Read More on the Story
Court decision allows Carter Lake casino to remain open (The Omaha World-Herald August 13, 2019)
Ponca Tribe of Nebraska win another legal battle over casino (The Associated Press August 13, 2019)
Judge again sides with tribe against Iowa, Council Bluffs in Prairie Flower Casino case (The Des Moines Register August 14, 2019)

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

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Senate panel moves quickly on Trump nominee for Indian gaming agency (July 29, 2019)
RECAP: National Indian Gaming Commission nominee outlines vision in Trump era (July 25, 2019)
President Trump's Indian gaming pick up for confirmation hearing (July 23, 2019)
Mayor: Ponca Tribe brings hope to the local community with casino (May 21, 2019)
Ponca Tribe scores another decision in favor of gaming rights (May 2, 2019)
Ponca Tribe remains confident after judge's ruling affecting new casino (March 29, 2019)
Ponca Tribe sees setback with federal judge's decision on new casino (March 27, 2019)
Ponca Tribe continues to see strong business at long-awaited casino (January 11, 2019)
A symbol of sovereignty: Ponca Tribe comes full circle with Prairie Flower (November 1, 2018)
Ponca Tribe sets November 1 opening for long-awaited casino (October 29, 2018)
Ponca Tribe inches closer to opening of long-awaited casino (September 18, 2018)
Ponca Tribe begins hiring employees for long-awaited casino (September 5, 2018)
Ponca Tribe honors 'sacrifices our people made' with gaming project (September 27, 2018)
Ponca Tribe negotiates casino agreement as construction and litigation continues (July 19, 2018)
Ponca Tribe marches toward sovereignty with long-awaited gaming project (June 13, 2018)
Ponca Tribe faces familiar opponent in long-running quest for casino (May 31, 2018)
Ponca Tribe facing faith-based opposition to long delayed casino (March 26, 2018)
Ponca Tribe 'always open to talk' about contested gaming project (March 5, 2018)
Ponca Tribe faces roadblock with lawsuit challenging restoration of homelands (December 15, 2017)
Ponca Tribe prepares for brighter future with plans for $26 million health center (December 6, 2017)
Ponca Tribe faces challenge to casino as city in Iowa moves forward with lawsuit (November 28, 2017)
Ponca Tribe secures victory in long-running battle over restoration of homelands (November 15, 2017)