Working Effectively with Tribal Governments

Federal Indian Law and Policy

Indian Gaming law

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The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA). Tribes were gaming long before Congress legislated in this area. In 1987, the Supreme Court in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, 480 U.S. 202, held that the states did not have jurisdiction to regulate tribal gaming. Following the Cabazon ruling, Congress passed IGRA as a means to provide a regulatory framework for Indian gaming and to balance the divergent interests of federal, state, and tribal governments. Congress divided Indian gaming into three classes, assigning different games and different regulatory responsibilities to each class. (25 U.S.C. 2701 et. seq.)

Classes of Gaming and Jurisdiction




Class I Social games of minimal value or traditional games played in conjunction with tribal ceremonies or celebrations Tribes exclusively
Class II Bingo, pull-tabs, non-banked card games such as poker where players play against each other Primarily tribes, also the federal government (NIGC)
Class III Slot machines, banked card games such as blackjack played against the house, other games typically found in a Las Vegas casino, lotteries, and horseracing Primarily tribes, NIGC* and states (as negotiated in compacts)

*NIGC's jurisdiction to regulate was recently limited by a D.C. Circuit Court ruling Colo. River Indian Tribes v. Nat'l Indian Gaming Comm'n, 373 U.S. App. D.C. 288 (2006).

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