Update on Ponca Casino in Carter Lake, IA

Here we go again !

On November 15th the Ponca’s announced that they had finally (after 9 years on appeal) had gotten permission to build a casino on 5 acres of land in Carter Lake, Iowa (on Nebraska’s side of the Missouri). They had bought the land in 1999 under the pretense of building a Clinic. We knew they were lying because the few Ponca’s in Omaha reside in South Omaha. Why build a clinic in Carter Lake?

Well, it didn’t take long before they went back to Washington and asked for the land to be put “In Trust”. They were given the designation based on the fact that it was for a Clinic. Shortly thereafter they “changed their minds” and decided that a Casino would be better.

The states of Nebraska, Iowa and Council Bluffs appealed the ruling which was reversed and the Ponca’s challenged the decision.

So, now we are faced with the possibility of having a Casino a mile from downtown Omaha and across the road from our airport and the Open Door Mission. I understand that the Attorney Generals of Nebraska and Iowa are looking into reversing this travesty but much prayer is needed.

We have worked successfully for 22 years to keep expanded gambling out of Nebraska and now this.

Below is the time line for the history of the Ponca casino project.

Please pray for this situation and I will keep you informed.

Blessings, Pat




  • In 1877 flooding and shifting of the Missouri river left a small parcel of Iowa land (2,000 acres) on the Nebraska side of the river. This is Carter Lake, Iowa, population 3,300.
  • Carter Lake is just northeast of downtown Omaha and directly across from Eppley airport. It is within a short distance of the new Quest Center, Gallup University and the proposed stadium.
  • In 1962 the Federal Gov. at the request of the Ponca tribe terminated the tribe’s status and divided its land and money among its members which were less than 70 in number at that time.
  • In 1990 the Federal Gov. re recognized the Poncas as a tribe. This made them eligible for Federal funding of which they have made extensive use. They claim 1,000 members in Nebraska & Iowa but this has yet to be proven.
  • The Poncas are the smallest of Nebraska’s 4 tribes and have no reservation.
  • In 1999 the Ponca tribe purchased 5 acres of land in Carter Lake and had it taken into “Trust” in 2002 for the purpose of building a health clinic. There is no tribal interest in Carter Lake.
  • Tribal leaders repeatedly misled local and state officials in Iowa about the tribe’s actual intentions. Many times they reiterated that the land was for a clinic not a casino.
  • In Oct. 2007 (unbeknown to anyone in Nebraska) the Poncas appealed to the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) to be able to build a casino on that land. It was denied because the site was not taken into Trust for gambling purposes under the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) regulations. They appealed the decision.
  • On Dec. 31, 2007 the NIGC reversed their ruling and allowed permission, stating that although there had been deception on the part of the Ponca tribe they could not restrict their land usage.
  • The NIGC is an independent regulatory agency established within the Dept. of Interior pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. This is a bureaucracy of 3 appointed tribal members.
  • Jan. 2008 the Sec. of Interior Dirk Kempthorne made a decision to tighten regulations allowing Indians to purchase land off reservations for gambling purposes. He correctly noted that since 1930 tribes have been permitted to put land in Trust for the purpose of tribal unity and the current rash of applications seem to have more to do with money then tribal cohesiveness.
  • On Jan. 17, 2008 Carter Lake Mayor said “I have no problems with casinos at all”. But he wondered how it would affect his police and volunteer fire department. And well he should as Indian casinos pay no taxes to local or state governments. Carter Lake would also be responsible for road maintenance and counseling for problem gamblers that would inevitably result from a casino within walking distance of Omaha’s north side.
  • Jan. 27, 2008 it was reported that many property owners surrounding the 5-acre parcel were willing to sell their land to the Poncas thus permitting their 5 acres to be used for the casino building alone.
  • On Jan. 30, 2008 Nebraska’s Attorney General filed an appeal on behalf of the state of Nebraska. Council Bluffs and the State of Iowa quickly joined us.
  • The case was heard on Oct. 31st and the judge ruled in our favor on Nov. 28, 2008.
  • The Ponca’s challenged this decision and it lingered in Washington for 9 years.
  • On Nov. 14, 2017 the Ponca’s got the 2008 decision reversed. They are preparing to build a casino in Carter Lake with 2000 slot machines, 50 table games and 150 hotel rooms.
  • Dec. 2017, Council Bluffs filed a lawsuit to prevent this. Nebraska and Iowa plan to follow.
  • What happens many times when Indians receive the “rights” to build a casino is that “right” is quickly leased to a Nevada gambling operation who then funds and operates the project. A percentage is then given to the tribe and a few get rich for doing nothing and the majority see a very small financial benefit.
  • Since 1988 when the IGRA (Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) was passed, hundreds of Indian casinos have been built with revenue of $30.67 billion reported in 2017. Despite this tremendous amount of money very little improvement can be seen in the life style of the majority of tribe members.