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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Sovereignty plus federal recognition equals gaming

18 November 2005

Dear Mark,
I have never been quite able to understand why certain Indian casinos have full-fledged gambling, while others have what amounts to nothing more than a bingo hall. One that I was in recently said they were not allowed to have slots; yet, you could play bingo on a slot machine. What gives? Then there are other Indian casinos that have gambling just like what you would find in, say, Reno, Nevada. I'm confused? Jack M.

Broadly speaking, without regard to specific details or exceptions, who's got what, where and why, depends on the specific type of compact each tribe negotiated with the state, and what class of gaming that tribe is allowed to provide. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, enacted in 1988 as Public Law 100 497, provides the jurisdictional framework that presently governs all forms of Indian gaming. The Act establishes three classes of games, each having their own regulatory scheme.

Class I gaming is defined as traditional Indian gaming and social games for minimal prizes. Regulatory authority over Class I gaming is exclusively vested with the tribes, not the state or federal government. One example of such a game would be Women's Gambling Dice - Sierra Miwok Style, once played in the Yosemite Valley. Traditionally a female-only game, it is played with six black walnut half shells, filled with pine resin and charcoal, and ten counter sticks. The object of the game is to win all the counter sticks onto one side. The walnut shells are used as dice and the gambling could consist of play-by-play betting, or end-of-game results.
Who says women don't know nuttin' 'bout craps?

Where you played, Jack, offered only Class II gaming, defined as the game of chance commonly known as bingo. If played in the same location as the bingo, instant bingo, punch board, pull-tabs and other games similar to bingo are also allowed. Class II gaming can also include non-banked card games. Non-banked games are played exclusively player-vs-player, and not against the house or against any player acting as a bank. The Act explicitly excludes slot machines, or electronic facsimiles of any of the Class II games; hence no one-armed bandits.

Tribes retain the authority to conduct, regulate and license Class II gaming, as long as the state in which the tribe is located permits such gaming for any other purpose. So, if for example Our Lady of Guadalupe in Billings, MT offers a bingo night, then all Montana tribes are allowed to have all forms of bingo, including those bingo slots that you described.

Class III gaming, often referred to as casino-style gaming, is wide-ranging and includes casino games such as slot machines, blackjack, craps, roulette, poker, etc.

Before a tribe is allowed access to your wallet, the following conditions must be met: (1) The tribe must negotiate a compact with the state and the compact must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior; (2) The particular form of Class III gaming that the tribe wants to conduct must be permitted in the state in which the tribe is located; (3) The tribe has to adopt a tribal gaming ordinance that has been approved by the Chairman of the State's Gaming Commission.

As to your question regarding bingo slots, yep, Jack, they are recognized by Uncle Sam as Class II gaming devices, because electronic, computer, or other technological aids used in connection with bingo are allowed. One such company, Rocket Gaming, headquartered in Miami, OK, provides Class II bingo slots to approximately 55 Native American gaming facilities in 13 states. Specializing in wide-area linked progressives, their machines are played in real time, with players competing against each other for major progressive jackpots.

True, Jack, they look and feel like typical slot machines, but technically they're not.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "You can take the man out of the casino, but you can't take the 'looking for an edge' mentality out of the man." -- Bob Dancer, "Casino Player"

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.