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Ponca Tribe mulling Carter Lake casino

Niobrara, Nebraska (AP)1-08

An American Indian tribe is considering building a casino near the Nebraska-Iowa border after a national commission authorized gambling on part of the tribe’s trust land.

The Ponca Tribe plans to meet next week in Norfolk to talk about the National Indian Gaming Commission decision that gives the tribe permission to run a casino on five acres of land at Carter Lake, Iowa.

The commission said in a December decision that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act allows for gambling on the land, because putting the land in trust was part of the tribe’s restoration. The commission had previously said the land was not in trust for gambling.

Tribal Chairman Larry Wright Jr. wrote in a letter to tribe members that the Ponca look forward to exploring the possibility of gaming.

“After careful consideration, the Tribal Council determined that it had a responsibility to explore its right to conduct gaming under (the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act) as a means to ensure the health and welfare of the Ponca Tribe and its people,” Wright wrote.

The commission made its decision just before the Bureau of Indian Affairs tightened rules for tribes wanting to start casinos off of reservation lands. It criticized the Ponca for saying they didn’t want gambling on the land, then changing their minds, but said it could not punish the tribe.

Wright said other ventures on the land weren’t successful.

Carter Lake Mayor Russell Kramer said that he wasn’t opposed to the idea of the Ponca building a casino, but wondered how it would affect his police and all-volunteer fire departments.

Kramer said few, if any, of the town’s residents were opposed to the idea of a casino moving into town when several commercial casinos were considering Carter Lake a few years ago.

Three commercial casinos are now across the Missouri River from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

“I don’t have any problems with casinos at all,” Kramer said.

Carter Lake is on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, just northeast of downtown Omaha. Its land was originally on the river’s east side, but flooding and shifting in 1877 left 2,000 acres on west side of the river, according to the city’s Web site.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1892 that Carter Lake belonged to the state of Iowa, and not Nebraska.

Though Omaha borders Carter Lake on three sides, the city would have no legal means to oppose a new casino if it were built, said Joe Gudenrath, spokesman for Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey.

“We have no jurisdiction or no official role in these developments, but (Fahey) will monitor its impact on the city of Omaha because of its proximity,” Gudenrath said.

The Ponca gained federal recognition as a tribe in 1990 and has about 2,500 members in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.