Iowa AG seeks to block Carter Lake casino project

Chris Rizo Aug. 22, 2008, 1:10pm

Tom Miller (D)

Jon Bruning (R)

DES MOINES, Iowa (Legal Newsline)-Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller on Friday asked a federal judge to overturn a federal regulatory decision that would allow the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska to build a $250 million casino in Carter Lake.

Miller said the National Indian Gaming Commission erred in approving the project, which would be on Iowa land.

The commission's ruling Dec. 31, 2007, was contrary to the commission's original determination and to its own legal counsel, who concluded the Carter Lake land does not qualify under federal law as "restored lands" that can be used for Indian gambling.

"By reversing course, the commission's most recent decision would allow the tribe to move forward with negotiating a compact to establish a casino at Carter Lake," Miller said in a joint statement with Gov. Chet Culver.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning filed a similar lawsuit to block the project, claiming that his state has an interest in the case because of Carter Lake's proximity to Omaha.

Carter Lake lies on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River, northeast of downtown Omaha. The casino land, however, is in Iowa.

The Carter Lake area's three casinos generate more than $100 million annually in state, city and county taxes, but Indian casinos in Iowa don't pay gaming taxes.

In the state's lawsuit, Miller is asking a federal judge to determine that the five-acre Carter Lake property does not qualify as restored lands that can be used for building a casino.

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Des Moines.

The tribe had planned to use the parcel to build a health clinic, but had not mentioned building a casino, state officials have said.

"Our lawsuit is predicated on the fact that the Commission erred in concluding that the Carter Lake parcel qualifies as "restored lands" that are eligible under federal law to be used for gaming," the Miller-Culver statement said.

"The State of Iowa is asking the Court for a Declaratory Judgment vacating and setting aside the Commission's decision to approve the Tribe's gaming ordinance and declaring that the Carter Lake parcel does not qualify as "restored lands" eligible to be used for gaming," they added.

For its part, the U.S. Justice Department said the National Indian Gaming "reasonably and correctly found" that the Ponca tribe had the right to build a casino on its Carter Lake land.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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