Are All Casinos on Indian Reservations?

Be it in movies, TV shows, or online, you have in all probability come across tribal casinos in the United States more than a few times. As a matter of fact, people encounter this kind of land-based casino so many times that they rightfully ask: Are typical casinos on Indian reservations?

Well, not all. We’re all acquainted with the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the epitomes of gambling in America slot pg . But outside both of these cities, there seems to be a slew of brick-and-mortar casinos simply dubbed tribal casinos. What’s up with that?

In the lines below, we shall attempt to dissect the concept of tribal, or Native American, casinos in the US, once they came into being and why, and lay out the key differences between casinos on Indian reservations and their commercial equivalents.

Casinos on Indian Reservations Explained

In the United States, the concept of Indian gaming encompasses all gambling enterprises owned by federally recognised Native American tribes that operate on Indian reservations.

These enterprises include a variety of business operations: from full-blown casino facilities with slot machine parlours, Las Vegas-style high-stakes gambling, and hotels with varying accommodation capacity to smaller facilities offering bingo, lotteries, and video poker.

Since US federal laws allow a certain level of tribal sovereignty and self-government, tribal casinos are exempted from being regulated by individual states.

Why Are There Casinos on Indian Reservations

To answer the question of Why are casinos on Indian reservations?, we’ve to go back several decades.

The history of casinos on Indian reservations is closely connected to the case of Russel and Hellen Bryan, a married couple from Minnesota living on a reservation. The story began in 1972 when Itasca County notified the couple that their mobile home was at the mercy of US$147.95 in taxes. The Bryans, both enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, couldn’t afford to pay the tax and turned for help to a legal aid service.

Following some lower court rulings against their favour, in 1976, the case was brought ahead of the Supreme Court. In a landmark case dubbed Bryan v. Itasca County, the Court ruled that a state couldn’t tax any property on Indian land or individuals living there.

In the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling, the phenomenon of gambling on Indian reservations got off the ground. For example, the Seminole tribe in Florida was the first to start an illegal high-stakes bingo operation in 1979.

Inspite of the authorities’attempts to shut down this tourist-attracting facility, the Supreme Court once again ruled in favour of the tribe and held that the State had no to regulate activities on Indian reservations.

However, it wasn’t until 1988 when The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was passed by Congress, clearing all legislative hurdles for Native American tribes-owned casinos.

Aside from serving as a legal framework for tribes and states to develop tribal gaming, the IGRA also laid the legislative ground to safeguard gaming as a method of generating revenue for Indian tribes.

Can All Native American Tribes Have Casinos?

The passage of the IGRA has offered ample opportunities for Native tribes to run gambling operations. Still, not absolutely all US states have tribal casinos inside their borders and not absolutely all tribes engage in gambling. You can find two explanations why you can find casinos on some Indian reservations and not on others.

For a tribe-run gambling operation to exist, a state needs a reservation. States like Illinois, Kentucky, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, or New Hampshire recognise no tribes; therefore, they’ve no reservations on their territory. In total, you can find 15 US states without any Indian reservations.

The other reason is that a state hasn’t reached a concise with a tribe within its borders. Such may be the exemplory instance of Utah, South Carolina, or Alaska, that recognise Native American f tribes but haven’t reached a package that would allow the tribes to run gambling operations.

It should be noted that a tribal-state compact is required only when a tribe wishes to provide a type of gambling that’s not legal in their state; because case, it takes approval from the authorities.

A tribal-state compact is like obtaining a gambling licence: you cannot start a gambling operation unless granted formal approval. We explored this in-depth within our blog post about gambling licence and what this means, so check it out for a more in depth explanation about how it works.

Differences Between Indian and Commercial Casinos

Throughout the United States, you can find two typical kinds of casinos: Indian reservations and commercial casinos. Of course, the key difference between those two is the location; Indian casinos can be located only on Indian reservations, while commercial casinos, well, you can find them on virtually any other property.

But what’re some other distinctions between both of these forms of casinos?

Legal Status

While commercial land-based casinos must adhere to all or any state or federal law, their Native American-run counterparts do not. Remember the 1976 Supreme Court decision that ruled states couldn’t regulate activities on Indian reservations or tax their residents?

The said ruling was bolstered further with a 1987 decision that held that a state couldn’t regulate casino activities on Native American land provided that the kind of gambling had been legal in the state. As a result, if a tribe really wants to start a gambling operation and not pay an individual penny in state or federal taxes, it needs to make sure that it sticks to legal forms of gambling.

Game Variations

As a guideline, if you’re thinking about what a tribal casino is offering in terms of game variety, you can just check the kind of gambling that’s legal in a state you’re visiting. Typically, reservation casinos will offer exactly the same kind of games as their commercial competitors.

As a result, Indian casinos typically offer slots and video pokers; sometimes, you is likewise able to take pleasure from video versions of table games.

In other cases, however, tribes will attempt to hash out a concise with their state, seeking to expand the offering. In this instance, you may be lucky to take pleasure from a game title of poker, even though their state limits the gambling activities of its residents to, say, bingo.

Video Poker Machines

To spell out the difference between video poker machines found at Indian casinos and commercial casinos, we’re planning to desire a brief history lesson.

  • The 1988 IGRA act established three classes of gaming.
  • Class I is defined as traditional Indian and social gaming for minimal prizes.
  • Class II covers bingo-based games of chance.
  • Class III gaming is full-scale, Las Vegas-style gambling, including slot machines, table games, poker rooms, etc.

A tribal-state compact needs to be forged for a tribal casino to provide Class III gaming. Sometimes, however, their state will refuse to permit a tribe to run Class III gaming operations, and the tribe must stay glued to Class II slot machines, which have more in keeping with bingo than slots you may already know them.

We compiled a list and detailed the most typical forms of casino games in a separate blog post that could allow you to delve deeper into various forms of gambling.


Even in case a commercial casino is found near a tribal venue, the payouts will not necessarily function as same. What’s more, different reservation casinos may feature different payouts. Sometimes, that is as a result of rules of the overall game (different gaming classes come with different rules), or it may be decided at the casino’s discretion.

For example, one casino may instruct its dealers going to soft 17 in blackjack, while another might have the dealer stand on it. Paytables in video poker or slot machines may be different, too; finally, some casinos will opt for Class II machines, while others may spread Class III options, but with less payout percentage.

As more and more states are opening up to iGaming, tribal casinos are seizing this opportunity and searching for their invest the web world. Take a look at our handy post that dives deeper into distinctions between land-based vs online casinos and see what sets them apart.

Who Operates Indian Casinos?

We’ve already explained that only recognised Native American tribes can be owners of casinos on Indian reservations. However they still need anyone to operate them, right?

The tribes themselves operate quite a few casinos. However, you can find equally as many casinos that are run by professional casino operators. And although the casino operator takes a cut of the earnings, a casino operated professionally can generate far more revenue.

For example, professional operators with a sequence of casinos could offer highly developed loyalty schemes to their members. For a tribal casino to setup such a scheme is no easy task, but for an important operator, adding a few thousand new members from the tribal casino for a huge operator, on another hand, is an item of cake.

You’ll find so many types of major operators being invited to run tribal casinos. Like, Caesars Entertainment-owned Harrah’s operates two Native American casinos in North Carolina, both owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

As you can see, thinking that tribal casinos are operated exclusively by Native American tribes constitutes a misconception. Pore over the most typical gambling myths and misconceptions within our separate guide and check your common information about casinos.

Do Casinos Need to Be on Indian Reservations?

Yes, casinos have to be on Indian reservations if owned by Native American tribes. Seeking to setup a casino business somewhere else would defeat the objective of the autonomy held by Native American tribes over reservations.

Although Indian casinos are limited by reservations, this notion has many upsides. One is the truth that they’re exempted from taxes and don’t fall under federal authority, providing them with ample possibility to thrive.

Why Are Casinos on Indian Reservations – Future

Gambling on Indian reservations has reaped huge success in the past all over the US but believe it or not, the Indian gaming industry remains a problem that both courts and the public are discussing every day. Many states are still unsatisfied with tribal-state compacts, while casinos on Indian reservations continue to be a reason for concern from many tribe members.

Critics of Indian casinos often cite concerns in regards to the impact of the facilities on local infrastructure and social relations. On another hand, advocates of tribal casinos argue that the positive effects of gambling operations on Indian reservations outweigh any potential negative outcomes.


As you can see, Native American tribes had gone quite a distance before they were finally granted sovereignty on reservations and offered a chance to capitalise on gambling. And despite having been granted immunity from state laws, numerous barriers still exist when it comes to starting a tribal casino, mainly if the kind of gambling isn’t regulated in the state.

While they bring economic prosperity for some tribe members, numerous others have seen zero advantages of them, independent of the altered image of Native Americans in the public eye and jeopardised infrastructure and environment on Indian lands.