State bill to send more gambling money to poor tribes

Each of California’s poorest tribes will get an additional $680,000 this year under legislation that shifts the money from some of the long-term gambling tribes.

The non-gaming tribes were supposed to get up to $1.1 million under the 1999 tribal gambling compacts, but were paid only about $410,000 because the fund fell short.

To make up the difference, the legislation Gov. Gray Davis signed Monday but announced Tuesday will shift $51 million from a separate fund from tribes that operated casinos before the compacts were signed.

“Any additional help is immensely valuable to a large tribe like the Torres Martinez (Desert Cahuilla),” said Gene Madrigal, an attorney for the Thermal tribe.

“The initial compact has never been close to being realized. In fact non-gaming and small-gaming tribes were suppose to get $1.1 mil- lion a year and I bet it didn’t total that for four years,” said Madrigal.

He said the Torres Martinez with 700-plus members and no real business opportunities would greatly benefit from the legislation the governor signed.

The bill Davis signed also allocates another $3 million from the fund to establish an Office of Problem and Pathological Gambling, which will conduct public awareness and prevention campaigns, operate a toll-free help line for problem gamblers, and train casino and health care workers.

Legislators are negotiating over two other bills that would shift some of the remaining tribal money to local governments to cover their costs from casinos within their jurisdiction.

Gambling tribes have become the state’s top political contributors, and both Davis and Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante are poised to benefit as they run in the Oct. 7 recall election. Davis also is negotiating with gambling tribes to contribute more to help trim the state’s budget deficit.

But those tribes aren’t the ones who will benefit from Tuesday’s legislation, said Barry Goode, Davis’ legal affairs secretary.

“What you’re talking about are some of the poorest tribes in California,” Goode said, 75 federally recognized tribes that have no gambling or operate fewer than 350 slot machines.

Tribes supported the transfer, according to the California Nations Indian Gaming Association.

In April, the California Gambling Control Commission reported that gambling tribes’ late payments into the Revenue Sharing Trust Fund cost non-gambling tribes $5.5 mil- lion in their quarterly distribution.

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