A Sportsbook At Prairie Flower Casino May Take Years To Bloom

Posted on October 25, 2019

While tribal casinos across the country have been slow to open sportsbooks, one of them in the Hawkeye State has a unique situation. Because of that, a Prairie Flower Casino sportsbook may take years to bloom, if ever.

A long-standing dispute with the city of Council Bluffs and two states makes the future of the casino as a whole uncertain. That’s why expanding operations to include an Iowa sportsbook is on the back burner right now.

How the dispute affects a hypothetical Prairie Flower sportsbook

The issue comes down to two items: the casino’s classification and a lawsuit on appeal. The federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 also plays a part.

Under that law, tribes like the Poncas (which operate Prairie Flower) were granted the room to open Class II gaming facilities. Those facilities can offer games like bingo, keno and pull-tab games.

A Class III license is necessary to offer slots, sports betting and table games. Individual states, not the federal government, regulate those licenses.

That’s where the lawsuit on appeal comes into play for the Prairie Flower in Carter Lake, Iowa. The Prairie Flower is a Class II facility.

Because of that status and a strained relationship with municipalities, moving up in class looks unlikely anytime soon. Repairing that relationship could be costly as well.

How things went south with Council Bluffs and the states

In 1999, the Poncas purchased a site for the casino near Carter Lake. In 2007, the federal government authorized the tribe to build and operate a Class II facility there.

The city of Council Bluffs immediately challenged the license. Iowa and Nebraska joined the suit as co-plaintiffs. If successful, the suit threatened to derail the tribe’s plans to even build, much less operate, the facility.

The tribe has prevailed in the suit twice, most recently this April, but the case is still on appeal. Despite that, the casino opened last November.

Among the allegations made in the suit was that the tribe promised to build a medical facility instead of a Class II casino. The tribe contends it never gave authorization to the attorney who made that promise.

Regardless of that fact, the relationship between Council Bluffs, Iowa, Nebraska and the Poncas has to be mended if any progress toward a sportsbook will ever be made. Though that may not be high on the list of priorities for Prairie Flower anyway.

Why a sportsbook may be the least of the Poncas’ concerns

Other than the ongoing litigation that threatens the casino’s very existence, there are reasons why the Poncas may not be in any hurry to apply for a Class III license.

While slots and table games can be highly profitable, sports betting historically isn’t. It’s unlikely the Poncas would apply for a Class III license unless they had plans to add slots and table games.

Converting to a Class III facility would require a major investment. Less than a year after opening, it’s probably not the time to undertake that.

Because of the economic and legal circumstances, the Prairie Flower may be Iowa’s last sportsbook holdout. The Poncas may never see that flower bloom.

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Derek Helling

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