What are the different classifications of tribal gaming activities?

For many years prior to 1988, Tribal Nations were building and operating gaming establishments. Revenues from these enterprises went directly to that tribal government. In 1988, however, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). IGRA Indian Gaming Regulation 25 U.S. Code Chapter 29 was implemented as a result of Tribal Nations building and licensing gaming operations on Indian lands as a method to generate revenue. There were several important findings that Congress noted when passing IGRA:

  • Secretarial (Secretary of the Interior) review of management contracts involve Indian gaming, but does not provide standards for approval of contracts
  • Current federal law does not provide clear standards or regulations for gaming on tribal lands
  • A principal goal is to promote economic development, self-sufficiency and a strong tribal government
  • Tribes have exclusive right to regulate gaming activity on tribal land where it is not specifically prohibited.

According to Indian Gaming Regulation 25 U.S. Code Chapter 29 there are several classifications for gaming operations:

  • Class I –
    • Social games solely for prizes of minimal value or traditional forms of Indian gaming by individuals or connected with tribal ceremonies or celebrations
  • Class II – (Bingo)
    • Games for prizes such as Bingo, cards bearing numbers, pull-tabs, lotto, punch boards, tip jars, instant bingo, and other games similar to bingo.
    • Are not prohibited by laws of the State and are played at any location in the State.
    • Does not include banking card games, electronic facsimiles of any game of chance or slot machines of any kind.
    • Tribal Nations do not need a compact for this Class II
  • Class III – (similar to Las Vegas/Casino style)
    • All forms of gaming that are not Class I or Class II i.e. blackjack and slot machines
    • Games must be approved by the authorized governing body of the tribal government
    • Games must adhere to tribal-state compact which are negotiated under the IGRA.

Federally recognized tribes, as self-governing entities, regulate gaming enterprises on their own land. Each Tribal Nation is unique and with unique tribal – state compacts. It is important to review your specific tribe and state governing documents to understand what is documented regarding gaming operations. To find more answers to questions please consult the Cornell University Law School site Indian Gaming Regulation Act, Indian Gaming: The National Information Site of the American Indian Gaming Industry, National Indian Gaming Commission, and an article Legal Distinction Between Class II and III Gaming Causes Innovation, Anguish. Please stay tuned for more article regarding American Indian policies.

To learn more about Government and Public Policy programs offered through Michigan State University Extension please contact me, Tribal Extension educator with questions or comments at (231)-439-8927 or This article was published by MSU Extension. For more information, visit the website. To contact an expert in your area, visit the expert page, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).

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