Ponca Tribe’s new casino in Carter Lake is set to open on Nov. 1

Ponca Tribe’s new casino in Carter Lake is set to open on Nov. 1
World-Herald News Service

The Prairie Flower is getting ready to bloom.

The Ponca Tribe of Nebraska’s new casino in Carter Lake will open at noon on Nov. 1, said Larry Wright Jr., the tribe’s chairman, following a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. Tribal members will get an advance tour Wednesday.

The 9,500-square-foot Prairie Flower Casino is on 5 acres of land at Ninth Street and Avenue H, about 3 miles north of downtown Omaha. It will feature 200 slot-style machines, a full-service bar and a snack bar but no table games for now, at least. It will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people 21 and older.

Plans are to expand the casino later and include additional features. But the scope and timing of the expansion haven’t been decided yet, said Jimmy Centers, a tribal spokesman.

Profits from the casino will help support programs and services for the tribal citizens, including a health clinic near Ralston, job training, continuing education, land preservation and cultural arts, Centers said. The tribe now claims a membership of more than 4,200 people, about half of whom live in Nebraska or Iowa.

The tribe also expects to contribute about $775,000 a year to the City of Carter Lake for police, fire and rescue, and community services.

The casino is named for the daughter of Standing Bear, a 19th century Ponca chief. Prairie Flower died of tuberculosis during the tribe’s 1877 Trail of Tears, when the federal government forced some 700 tribal members to leave their homelands near Niobrara, Nebraska, and move to a reservation in what is now the state of Oklahoma. She was one of nine members of the tribe who died along the way.

Standing Bear gained fame two years later when he successfully argued, in a U.S. District Court proceeding in Omaha, that Native Americans should be considered “persons within the meaning of the law.” Previously they were not.

In 1881, land in Knox County was returned to the Poncas, and the tribe split permanently between groups in Oklahoma and Nebraska. The federal government terminated the Nebraska tribe, then called the Northern Poncas, in 1966.

The casino will open one day after the anniversary of the day, in 1990, that the government restored its official recognition of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska.

“Our people lost not only land and holdings, but our culture and language, because of forced assimilation,” Wright said. “This will go a long way towards helping and bridging those gaps.”

The Prairie Flower is opening over the strong objections of the City of Council Bluffs and the states of Iowa and Nebraska. They joined together in a lawsuit to stop the National Indian Gaming Commission — an agency of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs — from approving the casino’s construction.

The city and the two states argued that the gaming commission violated federal law in allowing the Ponca Tribe to build on land that was obtained so recently. The Poncas bought the Carter Lake property in 1999. The commission ruled in favor of the tribe on Nov. 13, 2017.

Council Bluffs said it receives about $3 million in taxes and fees from three gambling facilities that operate there. Those casinos also donate about $8 million to community charities. In the lawsuit, the city argued that the revenue is threatened because of competition from Prairie Flower.

Tribal officials broke ground on the casino June 8, and the name was announced in late August. The tribe has ramped up advertising and started pages on social media. The casino’s Twitter feed announced last week that games had been installed and showed workers installing a lighted sign on the front of the building.

The tribe has held hiring fairs in an effort to recruit about 100 employees for the casino. Wright said about 20 percent of the new employees are tribal members.

“Casinos aren’t a panacea, but they’ll help us to diversify and be self-sustaining,” Wright said.

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