BY JIM MILLER
SACRAMENTO BUREAU
jmiller@pe.com

Published: 22 April 2012 08:12 PM

SACRAMENTO — Throughout much of the past decade, California’s Indian Gaming Special Distribution Fund has been a rare revenue bright spot for Riverside County.

Created by the agreements that legalized gambling on tribal lands, the fund has fostered grants to pay for police officers, medical services and other expenses to offset traffic and other consequences of having casinos nearby.

No county has benefited from the tribe-supported fund as much as Riverside, which has received $77 million since 2003, almost one-half of the mitigation money allocated statewide. San Bernardino County has received $11 million, about 6 percent of the total.

Now the account is sliding toward insolvency. Revised gaming agreements have redirected some tribes’ payments, shrinking the fund’s balance to $5 million in June 2013, down from $115 million in 2010 and nearly $200 million in the middle of the past decade.

“It’s certainly on a downward trend,” said Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit, who leads the local committee that reviews proposals to spend the money. Its demise, he said, is among the contributors to local agencies’ budget problems.

Last fall, $9 million in fund money was appropriated to local communities, with $2.5 million going to agencies in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Gov. Jerry Brown, though, has ruled out any future appropriations until a “frank discussion” about the fund’s future, he said in a statement when he signed the bill.

The state fund’s main purposes are to pay for gambling regulators, assist tribes that have small casinos or no gaming, and to help local governments deal with casino impacts.

A recent casino agreement with a Santa Rosa-area tribe signaled that the governor seeks to take a different approach that reduces Sacramento’s involvement. In the Legislature, meanwhile, there continues to be talk of revising the formula that guides the allocation of mitigation money.

Looming over everything is the 2020 expiration of the 1999 deals that created the fund.

SHRINKING FUND

In 2010-11, money from the fund paid for millions of dollars worth of law enforcement officers, traffic projects, and other expenses linked to casinos.

San Jacinto, for example, received $541,000 in grants sponsored by the neighboring Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians. The money paid for improvements to Esplanade Avenue and emergency medical services linked to the tribe’s casino.

The tribe also sponsored $219,000 in grants for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and $500,000 for the Riverside County Transportation Agency to widen Highway 79.

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