The city of Council Bluffs, and the states of Iowa and Nebraska are continuing their legal battle to shut down the Ponca Tribe’s Prairie Flower Casino in Carter Lake.
This week, lawyers for the three governments filed a notice of appeal to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis. They are seeking a review of an earlier ruling by a federal district court judge in Iowa that the National Indian Gaming Commission acted properly in 2017 when it allowed the tribe to build the casino on a 4.8-acre parcel of land the tribe purchased in 1999.
The land is strategically located in Carter Lake, south of Eppley Airfield and about 2 miles north of downtown Omaha.
The National Indian Gaming Commission is an agency of the Interior Department tasked with regulating Indian gaming across the country. The 2017 approval of the casino echoed a similar decision 10 years earlier, which the three governments successfully challenged.
The Ponca Tribe opened the casino Nov. 1, 2018.
Iowa, Council Bluffs, and Nebraska argue that the Carter Lake site isn’t a legally permissible site for a casino for the Poncas, contending that they can only build on “restored lands” near Niobrara, Nebraska. They also argued that the tribe violated a 2002 promise to use the Carter Lake site for a medical clinic.
Iowa and Council Bluffs are concerned about competition for three state-regulated casinos in the Bluffs, which draw many of their customers from Nebraska. The State of Nebraska wants to keep casinos out of its borders.
In a ruling last April, Judge Stephanie Rose of the Southern District of Iowa returned the ruling to the Gaming Commission to consider the 2002 agreement, but she didn’t order the casino closed in the interim. The three governments argued that was a mistake.
Within weeks, the Gaming Commission voted again to permit the casino. In a ruling Aug. 12, Rose reaffirmed her decision to allow the casino to keep operating.
The likely next step is for the 8th Circuit Court to schedule oral arguments in front of a three-judge panel.