Defining the Three Classes in Tribal Gaming

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Bingo card on Buffalo Extreme

We’ve already used the terms Class II and Class III in a few places on the site. But we’ve yet to do a full definition of what they are and what they mean. Here’s a question from a player that shows some of the confusion out there:

Recently, I learned that casinos have a class system, class one through three. I was told that the higher the class, the better the payouts. Can you explain exactly what the class system is and what it means?


The three classes aren’t about better payouts, but more about the level of stakes involved (or envisioned to be involved at the time these laws were developed).

The classes specifically speak to tribal gaming. When laws were updated to allow for the potential of tribes to introduce gaming, The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was set up to legalize gaming and set up three classes of gaming:

  • Class I refers to social games and traditional/ceremonial games. Tribes can leverage these without restriction.
  • Class II refers to Bingo and tools that assist with the playing of Bingo, along with non-banked card games. Tribes can implement these but effectively self-regulate with the oversight of the National Indian Gaming Commission.
  • Class III refers to all other forms of gaming, including casino-style gaming (such as slot machines and house-banked card games). Tribes can only offer Class III if they have an agreement with the state, known as a compact, that defines what is allowed and any rules that must be abided by.

Effectively, Class I has the lowest expected stakes, and Class III the highest expected stakes, at least at the time the law was implemented.

Do you play bingo machines at casinos that have them?

But what happened since the IGRA was passed is the development of Class II Bingo Machines that look like slot machines but are actually games of electronic bingo. 

Because the Bingo machines are tools to help facilitate the playing of bingo games, they fall into Class II regulations and so you’ll often see Bingo machines like them in states where states have not approved casino-style gaming. Increasingly these games can and do look like regular slots, and popular brands have been making their way onto Class II gaming floors as they find ways to approximate the experience of traditional slots on Bingo machines.

Class II machines sometimes pop up in states where Class III was approved, in instances where there’s a cap on the number of slots, for instance, or sometimes to offer a broader mix of games (such as in Oklahoma, where certain types of Class II games have become wildly popular and remain so).

We sometimes get asked why Bingo machines aren’t found in Nevada, and that’s because Nevada is a widely open commercial state whereas Bingo machines are a tribal gaming-specific tool approved under that law, with Bingo Machines designed to approximate slots. Nevada, meanwhile, simply allows slots. So the Nevada regulations don’t account for, or incorporate, those game types.

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