Do You Have Class II Games on Your Casino Floor?

The Class II Technical Standards and MICS regulations recently published by the NIGC and the commission’s stated intent to restrict one touch bingo games with a bulletin and enforcement action are no less than the formation of what I call an ETR – Electronic Technology Reservation. Yes, I said “reservation.”

The dictionary defines technology as: The branch of knowledge that deals with the creation and use of technical means and their interrelation with life, society, and the environment. And the dictionary defines reservation as: A tract of public land set apart for a special purpose, as for the use of an Indian tribe. It also defines reservation as the act of keeping back, withholding, or setting apart. In this case, the area that is being set aside by the NIGC “for a special purpose for use of Indian tribes” is a fraction of the electronic
technology available to use for Class II games.

When Congress created the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) they intended for us to have maximum flexibility with regard to electronic technology in our Class II games. Since this new “reservation” seeks to keep tribes from so much valuable technology and to restrict tribes’ technological flexibility for Class II games, it is also consistent with the dictionary definition of keeping tribes back (or should I say down?).

Don’t let anyone fool you into believing this new reservation is in the best interest of tribes. I cannot give you one example of how a reservation was ever in the best interest of an Indian tribe. The fact that tribes are being placed at a technological disadvantage in this dynamic, fast growing marketplace has at least two obvious analogies:

• Tribes are once again getting the worst “land” and told that it is good enough.
• Tribes are again being put at the disadvantage when dealing with states, which is a critical step in taking
all economic benefits from tribes and thereby making them once again dependant.

This new ETR has a chilling effect on tribes as it creates the opportunity for NIGC, BIA and other federal agencies to enlist the Department of Justice to bring criminal actions against operators, manufactures and business committee members if we venture off this new reservation. The NIGC chairman says that will not happen as long as we are compliant with the new regulations. But isn’t that what they said about staying on our old reservations?

Class II is the foundation of Indian gaming as structured through the IGRA. It is the category of popular games for which tribal governments have primary responsibility. Before IGRA there were NO classes of gaming, period. There was only “legal” and “illegal.”We as tribal leadersmust preserve the niche that
was carved out solely for us – Class II. Without this on our gaming floors, it could all one day disappear.

The Class III invasion of our gaming floors is an assault – people need to be cognizant of the dangers of this onslaught.

Let me tell you a little history of a few of our tribes. Before the first European set foot upon what we call Turtle Island, we had no horses. Think about what I just wrote. There were no thoroughbreds, quarter horses, paints, or even appaloosas.

We were people who could not travel great distances.We were primarily an agriculture-based economy and lifestyle. We would kill the buffalo and other game that were close to us, use those for the entire year, and wait for their return. But we didn’t have the means to pursue herds.

It wasn’t until the Europeans brought horses onto this land and those horses were captured or turned loose that we had mobility.We as a people began to catch and ride the horses. We became very good at it and we became a horse riding culture. We became nomads traveling great distances to track and kill the buffalo. After many years as a horse culture we began to lose our agricultural heritage and primarily became hunters.

The federal government saw that the way to control the Indians was to control our sustenance, our food stock. So, they developed a federal policy to destroy the buffalo herds by killing, and not using, bison by the millions. At the same time, they forced us on to barren reservation lands.We lost our food supply. Because we had surrendered our agricultural heritage, we no longer had the ability to fend for ourselves when the bison herds were destroyed. We became dependent on the handouts of the federal government.

Today virtually the same thing is happening, but in reverse order – the NIGC is trying to push us onto a barren electronic technology reservation which would make us vulnerable to the loss of the modern day bison, Class III gaming.We are faced with a very hard decision – do we move to an all Class III culture and turn our backs on our heritage and history? Or do we continue to cultivate the Class II arena?

If we protect our access to viable Class II games then, when our Class III compacts come up for renewal, we will not have to bow down to federal and state pressure to give more of our revenue stream to others because we will still have the ability to offer a game that is fast, fun, and profitable.

On the other hand, if we do not continue to use and purchase Class II games, Class II manufacturers have told us they will no longer produce these games. They will all move to the Class III market, we will forget what the Class II games were all about and we will lose the Class II option.

Without Class II games, when the states want more of our revenue through our new compacts, we will not have leverage to negotiate as we will not have an alternative to fall back on. Without a healthy supply of Class II games at our disposal, our ability to offer Class III games (without having to turn over most or all of the income from those games) could disappear. It will be gone, just as the buffalo were gone.

When someone from NASA was recently asked if they could land a man on the moon, they responded they could, but it would take about six years. They had lost the infrastructure to man a mission to the moon. There were no modules, no space capsules and no rockets to get them there. It would all have to be built from the ground up.

 Well, so too it will be with the Class II option if we are not supporting it. When we will need those games (and yes we will need them one day) they will not be there. There will not be an infrastructure in place to put Class II gaming systems on our casino floors any more. We will be at the mercy of state and federal governments. They will have cut off our food supply and trapped us on an electronic technology reservation.

So, tribal reader, I am left with only one question for you – if you do not have Class II on your gaming floor, why not?

About the author: J R Mathews is Vice Chairman of the Quapaw Tribe and Treasurer of NIGA. He can be reached by calling (918) 919-6000 or email