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It’s no jackpot, but it’s money

April 01, 2006|By ROBERT S. HONG,Staff Writer

Imperial County will soon receive a $31,775 windfall from a special casino gambling fund.

Some of the money likely will go to the District Attorney’s Office to aid in prosecuting crimes committed on tribal casino land, county Supervisor Wally Leimgruber said.

The funds were awarded after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill Tuesday that put an additional $20 million into the state Indian gaming special distribution fund. Schwarzenegger had earlier vetoed the addition to the SDF to the 25 counties with Indian gaming, saying he had yet to receive an accounting of recent expenditures.

The SDF was created to help compensate for financial setbacks caused by having a casino in a county. Revenue comes from participating American Indian casinos across the state.

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With the affected counties needing more revenue from casinos, the state Legislature decided to add more to the budget, said Assemblywoman Bonnie Garcia, who was instrumental in the bill’s passage and represents Imperial County.

Garcia said because of increasing demands on casino-bearing counties, the Legislature decided last year to add an extra $20 million to the fund to be distributed to counties according to need

Imperial County has only one casino — run by the Quechan Tribe of the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. The tribe operates Paradise Casino at the eastern edge of Imperial County. It has 425 slot machines, as well as bingo and card tables, generating almost $40,000 annually for the fund, Garcia said.

With the new money in place, the county will receive another $31,775.

The distribution of the funds correlates with the number of gambling machines per casino in each county. Riverside County, home to several casinos, will receive over 8.5 million in new funds.

Revenue from the SDF will go into casino-impacted services, such as the sheriff’s and fire departments. It also could be used to repair roads around the casino, which are heavily impacted by traffic.

In Riverside County, the SDF has been used to create a “special prosecution unit” to deal with people who commit casino-related crimes, said Garcia.

When the state budget was examined last September, the governor vetoed adding the extra money to the SDF, saying he did not have proper reports to see where the money was going, according to Richard Harmon, an aide to Garcia.

Harmon said the reports were there but apparently had not reached the governor’s office — a problem that Garcia, along with 37th District state Sen. Jim Battin, “resolved the issue quickly.”

Gordon Hinkle, a Battin aide, said the governor vetoed the budget item because he wanted to “make sure (the money) was going to be spent where it was supposed to.”

After receiving reports of how money in the SDF was being spent, the governor approved Senate Bill 288, restoring the $20 million back to the fund.

>>Staff Writer Robert S. Hong can be reached at rhong@ivpressonline.com or at 337-3440.

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