Casinos on Indian Reservations

Are All Casinos on Indian Reservations?

You have likely encountered tribal casinos in the United States several times, be it in movies, on television, or online. People encounter this sort of land-based casino so frequently that they legitimately wonder whether all casinos are located on Indian reservations.

Well, not all. Everyone is aware of the flash and glamour of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the gambling capitals of the United States. Outside of these two towns, however, there appears to be an abundance of brick-and-mortar casinos known simply as tribal casinos. What’s going on there?

In the following paragraphs, we will attempt to deconstruct the notion of tribal, or Native American, casinos in the United States, including when and why they emerged, as well as the key distinctions between casinos on Indian reservations and their commercial counterparts.

The Explanation of Casinos on Indian Reservations

Indian gaming comprises all gambling operations controlled by federally recognized Native American tribes and operating on Indian reservations in the United States.

These businesses include anything from full-scale casinos with slot machine parlors, Las Vegas-style high-stakes gambling, and hotels with different casino capacities to smaller establishments that provide bingo, lotteries, and video poker.

Since federal rules in the United States provide a certain degree of tribal autonomy and self-government, tribal casinos are immune from state regulation.

Why Do Indian Reservations Often Feature Gambling Casinos?

Our search for an answer to the age-old topic of why casinos are located on Indian reservations must go back several decades.

Russel and Hellen Bryan, a Minnesota couple residing on an Indian reservation, are intimately connected to the development of casinos on reservations. In 1972, Itasca County told the couple that they had to pay US$147.95 in taxes on their mobile home. The Bryans, both enrolled members of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, were unable to pay the tax and sought assistance from a legal aid organization.

In 1976, after a succession of lower court verdicts against them, the Supreme Court was invited into the dispute. In a historic case known as Bryan v. Itasca County, the Supreme Court declared that a state may not tax Indian territory or its inhabitants.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, the phenomenon of gambling on Indian reservations gained momentum. In 1979, the Seminole tribe in Florida was the first to operate an illegal high-stakes bingo game.

The Supreme Court found once again in favor of the tribe and declared that the State had no authority to control activities on Indian reservations, despite the government’s attempts to close down this tourist attraction.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was not approved by Congress until 1988, eliminating all legislative obstacles for Native American tribe-owned casinos.

In addition to providing a legal framework for tribes and states to pursue tribal gambling, the IGRA also established legislative protections for gaming as a revenue source for Indian tribes.

Are casinos permissible for all Native American tribes?

The enactment of the IGRA has provided Native tribes with several chances to operate gambling enterprises. However, not all U.S. states include tribal casinos, and not all tribes engage in gambling. There are two reasons why certain Indian reservations have casinos while others do not.

A state must possess a reservation for a tribe-run gambling enterprise to exist. Therefore, states such as Illinois, Kentucky, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, and New Hampshire have no reservations on their territory. There are no Indian reservations in a total of 15 U.S. states.

The other reason is that a state has not struck an agreement with a tribe residing inside its borders. Such is the case with Utah, South Carolina, and Alaska, which all recognize Native American tribes but have not achieved an agreement allowing them to operate gambling operations.

It should be noted that a tribal-state agreement is only required if a tribe seeks to offer a sort of gambling that is not permitted by the state; in this instance, the tribe must obtain authorization from the authorities.

A tribal-state compact is analogous to acquiring a gambling license: you cannot launch a gambling enterprise without formal authorization. Check out our blog post on the meaning of a gambling license for a more thorough explanation of how it works.

Differences Between Commercial and Indian Casinos

There are two common types of casinos in the United States: Indian reservations and commercial casinos. Obviously, the primary distinction between the two is location; Indian casinos are only permitted on Indian reservations, whereas commercial casinos can be found on nearly any land.

What additional distinctions exist between these two sorts of casinos?

Legal Status

Commercial land-based casinos are required to comply with all state and federal laws, while their Native American equivalents are not. Remember the 1976 Supreme Court ruling that prohibited states from regulating or taxing enterprises on Indian reservations?

A 1987 judgment upheld that a state could not restrict casino activities on Native American property if that form of gambling was already legal in the state. Therefore, if a tribe wishes to launch a gambling enterprise without paying any state or federal taxes, it must ensure that it only engages in legal forms of gambling.

Game Variations

If you are interested in the range of games offered by a tribal casino, you may check the legal forms of gambling in the state you are visiting as a general guideline. The majority of the time, reservation casinos provide the same games as their commercial counterparts.

Consequently, Indian casinos often include slot machines, video poker, and, in some circumstances, video versions of table games.

In other instances, though, tribes will attempt to negotiate a contract with the state in an effort to increase the offering. Even if the state restricts its people’s gambling activities too, say, bingo, you may be able to enjoy a game of poker in this instance.

Video Poker Machines

A quick history lesson is required to understand the distinction between video poker machines found in Indian casinos and commercial casinos.

The IGRA Act of 1988 created three categories of gambling.

  • Class I is characterized as traditional Native American and social games with modest rewards.
  • Class II includes bingo-based chance games.
  • Class III gambling consists of slot machines, table games, poker rooms, and other full-scale Las Vegas-style games.

A tribal casino cannot provide Class III gambling without a tribal-state compact. Occasionally, a state will not let a tribe operate Class III gaming operations, and the tribe will be limited to Class II slot machines, which have more in common with bingo than traditional slots.

In a separate blog article, we produced a list and elaborated on the most prevalent sorts of casino games to help you explore further various forms of gambling.


Even if a commercial casino is located near a tribal facility, the payouts will not always be the same. Moreover, various reservation casinos may provide varying payouts. Occasionally, this is due to the rules of the game (different gambling classes have various rules), or it may be at the discretion of the casino.

In blackjack, one casino may direct its dealers to strike soft 17, while another casino instructs its dealers to stand. Paytables for video poker or slot machines may also vary; some casinos may provide Class II machines, while others may offer Class III machines with a lower payout %.

As an increasing number of states legalize iGaming, tribal casinos are grabbing the chance to make their position in the internet world. Examine our helpful post for a more in-depth examination of the distinctions between land-based and internet casinos.

Who is in charge of Indian casinos?

On Indian reservations, only recognized Native American tribes may own casinos, as previously mentioned. However, they still require an operator, correct?

The tribes themselves manage quite a few casinos. However, just as many casinos are operated by professional casino operators. And despite the fact that the casino operator receives a part of the revenues, a professionally run casino may create far more income.

For instance, professional operators with a casino chain can provide their members with well-developed loyalty programs. It is not simple for a tribal casino to implement such a program, but for a major operator, acquiring a few thousand new members from a tribal casino is a breeze.

Numerous examples exist of large operators being requested to operate tribal casinos. Harrah’s, which is owned by Caesars Entertainment, runs two Native American casinos in North Carolina, both of which are owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

As you can see, the notion that Native American tribes are the exclusive operators of tribal casinos is erroneous. Examine the most prevalent gambling myths and misunderstandings in our separate guide and assess your general casino knowledge.

Are casinos restricted to Indian reservations?

Yes, casinos owned by Native American tribes must be located on Indian reservations. Attempting to establish a casino industry elsewhere would violate the aim of Native American nations’ sovereignty over reservations.

Despite the fact that Indian casinos are restricted to reservations, this concept offers several advantages. One is that they are exempt from taxes and do not fall under federal jurisdiction, providing them with a considerable chance to flourish.

What Is the Purpose of Indian Casinos?

In the past, gambling on Indian reservations has been wildly successful throughout the United States, but believe it or not; the Indian gaming business is still a topic that courts and the general public discuss daily. Numerous states continue to be dissatisfied with tribal-state compacts, while casinos on Indian reservations remain a source of concern for many tribe members.

Critics of Indian casinos frequently express worry over the impact of these establishments on local infrastructure and social relationships. On the other hand, proponents of tribal casinos assert that the advantages of gambling operations on Indian reservations outweigh any possible disadvantages.

The Indian casino sector is altering the public perspective of Native Americans and their own self-conception, but it is not disappearing.

Currently, the future of casinos on Indian reservations is quite promising. There were 525 federally-recognized tribal casinos in 29 states as of the start of the year 2020, and this number will continue to rise.


Native American tribes had traveled a considerable distance before being allowed autonomy on reservations and the right to profit from gambling. And while being granted exemption from state laws, there are still several obstacles to opening a tribal casino, especially if the form of gambling is not regulated in the state.

While they offer economic wealth to certain tribe members, many others have received no advantages from them, with the exception of a tarnished public perception of Native Americans and damage to infrastructure and the environment on Indian grounds.

We hope we were able to answer all of your questions concerning casinos on Indian reservations as thoroughly as possible.

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