You might be inclined to think that casinos like those found in Atlantic City and Vegas are pretty much identical to those founded, owned and run by Native Americans, but there are some surprising differences.
Chief among them is the unique approach that Native American casinos approach slot machines.
It all goes back to 1988 when the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (the IGRA, as it is known) was signed into law as a way of making it easier for Native Americans to open and run casinos. The way it worked was that there were three classes of games, each with different requirements.
Class I games are traditional, simple games with small prizes. These games are neither found in casinos nor are they regulated by the IGRA.
Class III games are the more serious, high-rolling casino games like poker, blackjack, roulette, craps, traditional slot machines and the like. They are quite highly regulated and casinos have to pay tax on them.
Class II games, though, are something else entirely. Class II games include the likes of bingo, pull-tabs or lotteries and are games of chance that have higher stakes than class I games, but aren’t full-blown “casino games” like those of Class III. It is these games that are most attractive to and most common at Native American casinos for two crucial reasons. First, they do not require tribes to enter into state compacts, which are complicated agreements with the state in which the casino resides. Second, Native American tribes don’t have to pay any taxes on revenue accrued from Class II games.
Hence the rise of this very peculiar form of slot machine.
What It Is and How It Works
In order to qualify as a Class II game of chance, bingo slot machines have the look and feel of a regular, Class III slot machine, but they’re really bingo games in disguise.
These machines look like slots but are easily identifiable by having a bingo card displayed quite prominently somewhere on the screen. They were designed to give bingo a premium-casino sheen like other slot machines – and, in fact, without knowing better, most users would think they are just regular slot machines – but when you press the spin button on one of these machines, you’re not playing a machine with a random number generator built in but are actually joining a live casino game with other players.
The way you win is effectively the same as on a regular slot machine – random number generators pulling up a combination of symbols or numbers (it makes no difference) and if they match, you win a prize – but the actual gameplay is completely different.
It may look like you’re playing a game by yourself, but you’re actually competing against other players at the casino in an ongoing game of bingo, where the first to match the numbers that are called wins the cash prize. Though, admittedly, you don’t actually shout “bingo!” when you do win!
This means that there need to be at least two people playing this game of bingo at the same time (either on the machines or at the actual bingo tables) and considering how popular these machines are at Native American casinos, that’s seldom a problem, but if you’re at a quiet, smaller casino, you may actually find that you have to wait a while for the numbers to reveal themselves after you pressed spin.
What It Means
It’s crucial to understand, therefore, that while these machines can look and feel exactly like a conventional bingo machine, they absolutely are not them. Winnings are not determined by the developer or pre-programmed into the machine, but are based on an actual bingo game that’s actually happening at real time.
You’re not playing a machine but other people and though some of these do come with bonuses and jackpots, all you’re ever actually doing is using a fun interface to take part in a completely conventional bingo game with completely conventional bingo game payouts, winning patterns and rules.
As such, though the “jackpot” payouts vary more than with conventional slot machines, the trade off is that because these machines use traditional bingo gameplay and traditional bingo patterns, it’s actually possible to calculate the odds of each bingo pattern and win, and then combine them into an “expected return” value that equals the game’s payout. This is completely impossible on traditional, Class III machines.
Are Class II or Class III machines better? That varies from game to game and casino to casino, but bingo slot machines are a wonderfully unique alternative to both traditional bingo and the same old familiar slot machines.