Can Casinos Only Be On Indian Reservations?

No, casinos don't need to be on Indian reservations β€” so why do some people think they do?

Anyone that has ever explored USA real money casino gambling likely knows that these venues in Canada and the US divide into two main categories, commercial establishments and ones on Indian reservations run by native tribes.

The first group, commercial casinos, in general, are gambling establishments similar to the ones that can get found on the Las Vegas Strip. Indian gaming locales can also mimic these, but they often have distinguishing features. In some cases, they can even be a more faithful representation of Sin City casinos than their commercial counterparts, like in Florida and California.

By definition, a commercial USA gambling spot is one that gets operated by a non-tribal entity in a non-Native American reservation location. Usually, state laws only allow a specific number of these properties within their territory’s borders in distinct counties, typically not too urbanized destinations. For example, New York has twelve commercial casinos, eight of which are racinos, spread out in precise areas of the state. Most of its commercial establishments are in the tourist Finger Lakes region, near the Ontario Lowlands.

Below, we dive deeper into explaining why Indian or Native reservations can feature casinos, even though a state’s law may forbid gaming entertainment, and we will explain if safe online casinos can get operated from tribal land.


IGRA of 1988 established the NIGC.

What Is the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act?

Also known as IGRA, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is a law enacted by the 100th United States Congress that came into power in October 1988. It established a jurisdictional framework that governs tribal gaming in the US. Per this law, which has experienced its fair share of litigation and controversy, legalized gaming became possible on Indian reservations despite protests by multiple parties. Many see this federal law as a form of reparations for Native American tribes for the historical injustices that they have faced. Thus, by allowing them to have gaming businesses on their reservations, they should experience an economic boost that will help improve everyday life in their communities.

Per data from the National Indian Gaming Commission, the official licensing and regulatory body of tribal gambling, 224 federally recognized tribes out of 566 in the US operate casinos. Another 460 tribes that have not gotten federal recognition also dabble in gaming. These are gambling operators similar to the ones we mention in our casino reviews, but they do not meet the definition of an Indian tribe set by IGRA.

For over a decade, the US Indian Gaming Industry has generated around $30 billion in annual revenues. Aside from the dip experienced in 2020 due to the global COVID-19 pandemic and the government restrictions that ensued, this sector has been continuously growing in the US since 2009.

The most famous thing that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act is known for in gambling circles is the definition of the three gaming regulatory classes. We go more into the subheading that follows this one, where we also touch upon if Indian venues can offer a casino bonus or not.

Class I, II, & III Gaming Explained

As mentioned, IGRA founded the class gaming system. Yet, what is it? It is vital to note that, even with the existence of the National Indian Gaming Commission, tribal gaming in total gets regulated by a combination of federal, state, and tribal authorities. That depends on the category of gaming conducted.

Class I gaming refers to social free casino games that anyone tribe can provide. Class II includes lottery-style gambling options like bingo/keno and non-banked card games. There is no need for tribes that offer such options to get monitored by anyone other than the NIGC. Video lottery terminals, or VLTs, also fall under the Class II categorization. Even though these machines are super similar to USA online casino slots, they have a bingo soul, utilizing the parimutuel betting concept.

Class III gaming encompasses traditional real money slots and table classics like roulette and blackjack. For a tribe to offer these, it must enter into a gaming compact with its state. Various US regions allow Class III gaming at Indian or Native reservations yet forbid it at commercial venues. Four US states only permit Class II gambling at Native American casinos. These are Texas, Nebraska, Alabama, and Alaska.

Know that properties on tribal land can offer similar promotions found at mobile casino sites or land-based venues in other parts of the US. No law limits what kind of promo deals the operators of these venues can supply to their patrons.


The Mohegan Tribe is a rare Native American tribe to offer online casino games.

Are There Indian Online Casinos?

Yes. The Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods are gambling companies run by Native American tribes that operate legalized gambling websites in US states that allow them. And in some, they have even offered no deposit bonuses.

That said, a tribe cannot set up servers on their reservation and offer gaming services to residents across the US. Although, in Canada, the Mohawk Territory of Kahnawake set up the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, an organization that licenses and monitors a vast number of internet sportsbooks, dedicated poker rooms, and online casinos, many of which access Canadian players. These are sites that deliver high-level gaming action and top-end promotions and those that have the appropriate casino bonus codes.

Joseph Ellison

Joseph is a dedicated journalist and horse racing fanatic who has been writing about sports and casinos for over a decade. He has worked with some of the UK's top bookmakers and provides Premier League soccer tips on a regular basis. You'll likely find him watching horse racing or rugby when he isn't writing about sport.

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