Oct. 31 this year saw the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska breaking ground for construction of what will be a 60,000-square-foot addition to their Prairie Flower Casino.
That’s been a goal for the Carter Lake property “since Day One” according to interim tribal council chairwoman, Rebecca Sullivan.
Plans to expand existed even before the current Iowa casino opened, she added. The expansion to 70,000 square feet should reach completion in the summer of 2024.
Players will have access to Prairie Flower during construction, which aside from square footage, other additions include:
- 600 machines, including slots and electronic table games
- Sports betting area
- Gastro pub
- Dining options
- Retail space
All in all, Sullivan says the expansion’s atmosphere will resemble that of a food court. The addition will also mean 200 new jobs, bringing the total number of casino employees up to 300.
She didn’t divulge any projected costs for the expansion, however.
Significance of Iowa casino expansion for Ponca Tribe
The beginning of construction coincided with two anniversaries very important to the Ponca Tribe.
The extension’s groundbreaking date also marked the 32nd Anniversary of the Ponca Restoration Act. The Act, signed by the first President Bush in 1990, restored to the Nebraska tribe the Federal recognition that had been rescinded in 1966.
As a result of that midcentury termination, the US government stopped honoring treaties. And the Ponca’s remaining land and holdings were dissolved.
The groundbreaking also came just one day before the fourth anniversary of Prairie Flower’s opening. The big day also arrived more than a year after a federal court ruled that the tribe had a right to build and operate a casino on the Carter Lake land.
Opposing the tribe during the 15-year legal battle were Iowa, Nebraska and the city of Council Bluffs.
Carrie Voss, chair of the Ponca Elder’s Committee, spoke on how previous years’ poverty influenced her tribe’s and her character. “I feel like if you have that, then you feel for other people and you can do for others,” Voss said.
Prairie Flower Casino in Iowa may see competition from Nebraska casinos
Tribal Council Member Angie Starke has credited Prairie Flower’s success to serving a niche not covered by other casinos. “It’s kind of that friendly, neighborhood casino where they [guests] feel comfortable.“
She added that Prairie Flower offers games that its guests like to play. And visitors can count on friendly greetings and nice treatment, as well.
Now that people can gamble legally in Nebraska, Prairie Flower — and other Iowa casinos —may see some competition.
Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk, Inc., thinks that one of Council Bluffs’ gaming properties may close as a result of Prairie Flower’s expansion and the openings of his company’s Warhorse casinos.
One Warhorse property already operates in Lincoln, Nebraska and the other is approaching an opening in Omaha. However, Morgan doesn’t believe Prairie Flower’s expansion will negatively impact his company’s properties.
On the other hand, Rebecca Sullivan of the Ponca Tribe thinks that the change in Nebraska might have some impact on Prairie Flower. She stressed, however, that Nebraska’s entry into the legal gaming market didn’t influence her tribe’s planning.
Casino revenue supports Carter Lake and Tribe
Every year since Prairie Flower’s 2018 debut, the casino has donated $775,000 — 10% of the city’s yearly budget — to Carter Lake.
Also, the Ponca Tribe has put $28 million in revenue monies into housing, health clinics, transportation, and the preservation of their culture. Much of that culture was lost in the years between 1966’s termination and the 1990’s Restoration Act.
Those latter actions fulfill the vision expressed by then-tribal chairman Larry Wright Jr. when he spoke at Prairie Flower’s 2018 opening. He promised that the tribe wouldn’t be known just for gaming but for passing along the chance for economic stability to future Ponca generations, as well.
He called Prairie Flower Casino a symbol of the tribe’s resilience. And just last year, Wright followed up by saying, “It’s exciting for the tribe as a whole to know that it’s doing everything we thought it could do for us.”