Tribal Gaming FAQ's

Indian gaming has changed over the years. Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions that we receive.

Tribes & Gaming

The Basics

As sovereign governments, tribes have always had the right to conduct all governmental activities, including gaming. Indian gaming is a right of Indian Nations, derived from sovereignty recognized by the Supreme Court and Congress. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized Indian people’s right to run gaming on Indian land if such gaming is permitted outside the reservation for any other purpose. Congress established the legal basis for this right when it passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (“IGRA”) in 1988.

A major purpose for the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) was “to provide a statutory foundation for Indian gambling operations as a means of promoting economic development, self-sufficiency and strong tribal government.” Therefore IGRA established an economic rationale for Indian gaming on reservations. IGRA created three classifications of Indian gaming, Class I, II and II, and corresponding regulatory and gaming standards. And IGRA requires states to negotiate in good faith with Indian tribes that seek to enter Tribal-State compacts to conduct Class III gaming.

IGRA did not create Indian gaming. Gaming has always played a large role in the culture and traditions of many tribes. Gaming on Indian lands for both non-Indians and Indians began in the late 1970s when several tribes began operating commercial bingo and poker games on their reservations. This occurred at the same time that state lotteries were proliferating throughout the country.

Before IGRA, tribes did not have to consult states about their decision to have gaming on their lands. With IGRA, tribes were forced to negotiate with states in order to open casinos.

Indian tribes are governments and like city and state governments must provide services for their citizens. But unlike other governments, tribes do not have a tax base to provide revenue for services. Gaming has enabled tribes to have a dependable source of revenue to meet critical needs. In 2004 tribes in Arizona used gaming revenues to improve infrastructure, deliver healthcare, upgrade education and create new housing. Moreover, tribal governments are using gaming revenues to diversify and conduct other economic enterprises.

With the passage of Prop 202 in 2002, Arizona Tribes that are too remote to have casinos benefit from Indian gaming by receiving funds through intertribal transfer agreements of gaming devices with gaming tribes.

Indian Gaming & Regulation

These are three separate and distinct levels.

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) mandates that Tribes establish a regulatory body (tribal regulators and commissions) to ensure that operations are in compliance with local ordinances and Tribal/State compacts. Tribes are responsible for the on-site operation and management of all gaming facilities.

ADOG is responsible for enforcing Tribal/State compacts. The Department’s regulatory responsibilities include certification of individuals and businesses and regulation of gaming operations to ensure compliance with compact provisions.

NIGC oversees regulation of Indian Gaming nationally. Other Federal agencies responsible for enforcing laws relating to Indian gaming include the Interior Department, the Justice Department, the FBI, the IRS, the Secret Service and the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes and Enforcement Network.

Tribal Governments and Sovereignty

Tribes have the same status as states and foreign nations. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently upheld this view.

Tribal governments are not subservient to state governments; by law, tribes regulate their own civil affairs.

When tribes gave up their lands in treaties with the U.S., they retained the right to continue governing themselves as they had for centuries. Like states, tribal governments make and enforce their own laws; provide services for citizens; raise and spend revenues; regulate commerce; establish citizenship rules and negotiate with other governments.

Most require proof of blood quantum or lineal ancestry.

Taxes and Land

If they could, one government unit could seize power by taxing another out of existence.

They are not private, for-profit businesses. Congress intended tribal gaming to be a source of revenue for tribal governments, not a revenue source for states. Revenue from tribal governmental gaming acts in lieu of a tax base for tribal governments, almost all of which have few other resources.


In 2004 tribal government gaming nationwide generated $5.5 billion in federal taxes, $1.8 billion in state government revenue and more than $100 million for local governments. In Arizona, in 2005, tribal governmental gaming generated approximately $31 million in payroll taxes.

All Indian people pay FICA taxes, social security taxes, sales and other excise taxes. Only Indians who live and work on their own federally recognized reservations – not unlike soldiers and their families living on military bases–are exempt from paying state income and property taxes.

Federal aid is directed to tribal governments, not to individuals. In rare cases, individual tribal members may receive direct payments as part of negotiated or court ordered settlement of land, treaty, mineral rights or other claims.

Even in modern times, activities like hunting, fishing, logging and farming provide a vital connection to Indian culture and traditions. Most tribes, therefore, do not view land as a commodity to be sold or “used”, but rather as a long-term cultural asset to be preserved.

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