Are All US Casinos Owned By Indian Tribes

A factsheet and review of how many US casinos are owned by Native American tribes, and what the legislation says about these.

are all casinos native american owned
Are All US Casinos Owned By Indian Tribes

There are several misconceptions people often make about Indian casinos because of the lack of enough information about Native American gaming. If you enjoy gambling in casinos in the US, you must know how tribal casinos work and how they are different from regular gaming establishments.

In this article, you'll learn about Indian casinos, the basics of their ownership and operations, plus a guide comparing them to commercial casinos.

Native-American Casino Ownership

native american icon

Indian casinos, also known as tribal casinos, are gambling establishments that are built on tribal reservation lands in the US. In 1979, the first Native American casino was built in Florida, which was initially a bingo parlor. Because of its success, about 150 tribes followed and started operating casinos and bingo halls in the following years.

In 1988, the US Congress enacted the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), and the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) was established. NIGC is the governing body that regulates all high-stakes tribal casinos whose operations fall under Class II and Class III. Here are the three gaming categories based on IGRA:

  • Class I - traditional ceremonial and social games with minimal prizes; exclusively regulated by tribal governments
  • Class II - chance games like bingo, pull tabs, poker, punch board, non-banked games, etc.; regulated by tribal governments but must comply with NIGC's requirements and state laws.
  • Class III - all forms of games that are not under Class I and II, including blackjack, roulette, craps, and slot machines; tribal authority must follow IGRA's strict regulations on Class III gaming establishment and operations.

With this, tribal casinos are only allowed to operate in states where gambling is legal.

Do Indian Tribes Own All US Casinos? 

Not all US casinos are owned by Indian tribes. First of all, hundreds of commercial casinos operate within jurisdictions under federal law. These casinos are typically owned by large private casino companies like Las Vegas Sands Corps and Caesars Entertainment.

Secondly, even Indian casinos are run differently from each other, depending on the tribe's jurisdiction. Although there are those who are still managed by the tribal authorities, some large Native American casinos are put into contracts for commercial casino companies to operate expertly. One example is Caesars Entertainment managing Harrah's Cherokee, a tribal casino resort in Cherokee, North Carolina.

Do All Indian Tribes Run a Casino?

According to NIGC's data, not all federally recognized tribes in the US operate a gambling establishment. As of 2020, there are 574 recognized US tribes, and 248 of those are federally recognized to operate a tribal casino. Some of them run multiple gambling establishments. Currently, there are a total of 524 tribal casinos that operate across 29 states in the US. 

Furthermore, there are about 460 groups that are not authorized to start a Native American casino for they don't qualify as an "Indian Tribe" based on the definition stated in IGRA.

On the other hand, only 13% or about 72 to 74 Indian casinos can give payouts. According to NIGC, only those who have proven to utilize their profits in funding their tribe's government, conducting social programs in their communities, and helping their economy further develop can request to release payouts officially.

Lastly, based on the regulatory board's report, Indian gaming gross revenue is $27.8 billion for the Fiscal Year 2020. 

Indian Tribal Casino Statistical Data
Tribal Casino Infographic

What Makes Indian Casinos Different from Commercial Casinos? 

As of 2020, there are 525 tribal casinos in the US, which is a lot more than the 462 commercial casinos actively operating there. For you to understand how the two are different from one another, here are the primary factors:

RTP Rates

Commercial casinos are required to comply with their state's regulation on the minimum legal return-to-player rate or RTP. For example, slots in Nevada casinos should be set with an RTP of 75% and above.

On the other hand, Indian casinos can offer a lower RTP than that of their commercial counterparts since state laws do not regulate native American gaming. Additionally, they don't need to submit any reports on their RTP, unlike regular casinos that have to provide a copy of their payback percentage to their regulatory board every month.

However, some Indian casinos have already guaranteed that their RTP rates are just the same as those in commercial casinos. Besides, these tribal casinos still have to keep up since with lower RTP rates, they'll likely get fewer customers.

Games Availability

Because of the gaming categories set by IGRA on Indian casinos, games on each native gambling establishment may vary. The most common games that you'll see are video poker and slot machines as long as they have accomplished a compact. 

Most Indian casinos fall under either Class II or Class III categories. Those in Class II can offer bingo, pull tabs, lotto, poker, and other games that are played with multiple players where the prizes depend on the number of players and the ticket prices. On the other hand, class III tribal casinos can offer Vegas-style games like commercial casinos.

Keep in mind that the games' availability may also vary depending on state regulations for commercial casinos. 

Class II Slot Machines

Since there are gaming categories for Native American casinos that can restrict the variety of games they provide, tribes under Class II had to think of ways to still offer a Vegas-like experience while complying with the regulations. With this, they thought of creating slot machines that can pass as a Class II game, which is bingo.

With this, only Indian casinos have class II slot machines, and commercial casinos only have class III. Class II slot machines look the same as the Class III ones. Their main difference is that the former has a small window on the side that shows the bingo patterns. It is unlikely to see these type of games appear in US online casinos.

To play Class II slots, start by pushing the spin button. You'll then be electronically pooled with other customers who are playing simultaneously and have pushed the button. The game will require at least two players, with unlimited players allowed. Basically, these types of slot machines are not slots at all; instead, they're exactly like electronic bingo but are just manufactured to look like Vegas slots.

Establishment Amenities

When it comes to the size of their establishments, Indian casinos are way larger even compared to those most popular casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City. This is primarily because a tribal casino has a more expansive native land to build a hotel and casino on, which allows them to add more amenities and other services. A Native American casino has more function rooms, spas, pools, gyms, and shops.

On the other hand, commercial casinos are only limited to the spaces available in busy cities near large shopping malls and residential areas.  

Additionally, Indian casinos having bigger-sized gaming space means they also have the advantage of putting more table games and slot machines on the gambling floor.

Knowing more about Native American gaming and the difference between Indian casinos and commercial ones can help you choose which establishment is more favorable to you. In reality, there are no significant differences between the two types of casinos from a customer's point of view, especially if you're just looking for a gambling establishment to have some fun and pass the time.

This article was published on May 3, 2022, and last updated on October 26, 2022.