Know Your Game
The differences between Class II and Class III video poker
by Jerry “Stickman” Stich
If you do all your video poker play in Nevada or New Jersey this article may not be for you. However, if you ever play at Indian casinos in other states, read on.
Not all casino gaming is the same. In 1988 the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act became law and established a framework that governs Indian gaming. The act establishes three classes of games.
Class I gaming is defined as traditional Indian gaming which might be part of tribal ceremonies and celebrations, and social gaming for minimal prizes. The control over Class I gaming is solely under tribal authority.
Class II gaming is defined as the game of chance commonly known as bingo including both non-electronic and electronic or using computers in connection with the games. Also, if played in the same location as the bingo games, pull tabs, punch boards, tip jars, instant bingo and other games similar to bingo. Class II games also include non-banked card games (played against other players rather than the house). Class II games specifically exclude slot machines or electronic facsimiles of any game of chance.
Tribes have the authority to conduct, license and regulate Class II gaming as long as the state in which the tribe is located permits such gaming for any purpose and the tribal gaming ordinance is approved by the National Indian Gaming Commission. Only Hawaii and Utah currently prohibit all types of gaming.
Class III gaming includes all forms that are neither Class I nor Class II. Games commonly played at casinos, such as slot machines, video poker, blackjack, craps and roulette clearly fall in the Class III category as well as wagering games and electronic games of chance. Class III is also referred to as casino-style gaming.
Before a tribe may legally conduct class III gaming, that form of gaming must be permitted by the state. The tribe and state must also have an agreement that has been approved by the Secretary of the Interior. Finally, the tribe must adopt a tribal gaming ordinance that has been approved by the chairman of the commission.
The Line Blurs
Things progressed over time. Since Class II games allowed electronic versions, tribes innovated and invested in technology that would actually be bingo games but would have the look and feel of the highly lucrative slot machine style games. They did that job so well that many people are unaware they are playing Class II games.
Video poker games presented a special challenge. Let’s take an example. The bingo game is played and your particular game wins and the prize is determined to be a 25-for-1 four of a kind. The machine deals the following hand: K♣ Q♣ J♣ Q♥ Q´. You decide to go for the royal and save the K♣ Q♣ J♣. With these saved cards there is no way to produce a four of kind.
How do Class II games handle this situation? A “Genie” feature is added. Whenever the saved cards allow no way to make the proper winning hand, a “genie” appears and magically transforms the hand into the winning hand determined by the bingo game.
So then, what are the differences between Class II and Class III video poker games?
How Winners Are Determined
Class III games each have a random number generator (RNG) that determines the cards that are dealt in a random fashion. Each card is selected based on the results of the RNG.
As mentioned above, Class II games are actually bingo games. They are simply played using a server and presented to look as if they are a traditional video poker game. A central server controls the bingo game. It also uses a random number generator to determine the outcome of each bingo game.
How Winning Amounts Are Determined
Class III games calculate the odds of drawing various winning hands and set a pay table based on those odds. The pay table seldom returns 100 percent, based on the odds. The difference is the house edge. Class II games determine the odds of hitting various bingo patterns and adjust the winnings based on those odds.
Can the Return of the Game Be Determined?
Class III games deal hands whose frequency is based on the odds of those hands occurring. The pay tables on the game show the amount paid for each winning hand. Using this information a player can determine the expected return for the game.
Since Class II games are really bingo games, there is no way for a player to determine the actual expected return for the game. There is no information available to the player regarding the odds of the various bingo patterns and what patterns are used to pay which hands.
What about Playing Strategy?
Class III games deal hands based on actual odds of those hands occurring. To achieve the theoretical return for a game, perfect strategy must be used. Perfect strategy is the strategy that causes the highest long-term return for each dealt hand.
Since Class II games are determined by the results of a bingo game, there is nothing the player can do to alter this. Indeed, even if the player does everything he can to change a winning hand to something else the genie feature will undo those efforts and force the payment of the winning hand. Strategy has no place in Class II video poker.
How to Tell If You Are Playing Class II Video Poker
Class II games are only available at Indian casinos. If you are not playing at an Indian casino, there will not be any Class II games.
Also, just because you are playing in an Indian casino doesn’t mean there will be no Class III games. According to the National Indian Gaming Commission (www.nigc.gov), Indian gaming operates in 28 states. 24 states allow Vegas-style Class III Indian casinos and four allow Class II-only casinos.
The only visible indication that the video poker game is Class II is that they will have a little bingo card somewhere on the front of the machine. As the bingo game is played, the bingo card will be populated with the resulting pattern of that game. Class III games are not based on bingo games and will have no such display.
Should a Serious Player Play Class II Video Poker?
The answer may somewhat depend on what is meant by a serious player and what they want out of the game.
If the player wants to know what to expect for a return of the game and employ the proper strategy to get the highest return from the game, Class III games are the only way to go.
Some players have told me that the only games available in their area are Class II games and they like to play them in order to practice the proper strategy. Some say that it is actually better to practice strategy on a Class II game because the genie feature will tell you when you made the wrong hold.
The problem is not all mistakes will be caught—only those where the held cards make it impossible to produce the winning hand. Even though, due to competition, there is pressure for Indian casinos to have decent returns, you never know what the return actually is.
Soon all Indian casino may have only Class III video poker. But until then, if practice is what is desired, a better method is to buy video poker practice software. You will then know each time you make a mistake and will learn from it. Save the extra money you will lose on a Class II game and head to a casino with decent Class III games instead. ´