LINCOLN — Nebraska has joined Iowa in a federal lawsuit seeking to block the Ponca Tribe from opening a casino in Carter Lake.
Attorney General Doug Peterson said Wednesday that his office has intervened in a lawsuit filed late last year by the City of Council Bluffs and joined last week by the State of Iowa.
On the Iowa side of the Missouri River, the Ponca casino proposal is viewed as a threat to cut into tax revenues generated by non-Indian gambling outlets already operating in the state. But officials in Nebraska want to keep slot machines and roulette tables off the front porch of a state where casino gambling remains illegal.
“Since one cannot travel to or from Carter Lake without traveling through Nebraska, this means that Carter Lake’s gambling problem will become Nebraska’s gambling problem,” said Suzanne Gage, the attorney general’s spokeswoman.
The tribe announced in November that it would move forward on development of a casino on five acres of land it owns in Carter Lake. The announcement came after the National Indian Gaming Commission ruled that the tribe could develop the project on restored lands acquired after the Nebraska band of the Ponca regained federal recognition as an independent nation in 1990.
“Today’s announcement … will not stop the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska from developing our sovereign land in a way that allows us to better serve our members and provide a positive economic impact in the Carter Lake community,” said Larry Wright Jr., the tribe’s chairman.
The lawsuit names as defendants the National Indian Gaming Commission and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which administers the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Nebraska’s decision to join the legal battle renews an identical alliance with Iowa and Council Bluffs to fight a similar casino proposal in 2007. In that case, the governmental entities successfully sued to halt the project’s development after the national commission had approved it.
In 2010, a divided federal appellate court sent the Ponca proposal back to the commission, where it had been under consideration until last year’s decision to once again authorize a casino in Carter Lake.
“The federal government had its second chance ‘to get it right.’ It has failed, and it is incumbent upon the judiciary to rectify that failure,” David Lopez, deputy solicitor general for Nebraska, wrote in Wednesday’s federal complaint.
A Ponca casino would compete with existing gambling facilities in the Bluffs, which draw millions of visits each year across the Missouri River from Carter Lake and Omaha. Council Bluffs receives about $3 million in fees and taxes from the operations annually plus an additional $8 million a year in charitable contributions.
Despite the federal lawsuit, the 4,100-member tribe is moving forward with plans to develop a casino. Tribal officials have not released details of the size or scope of the project.
There are 506 tribal gambling facilities operated by 244 tribes across 29 states, according to the Indian Gaming Commission. Gross tribal gambling revenue hit $31.2 billion in fiscal year 2016, an increase of 4.4 percent over the previous year.