Revenues at California Indian casinos increased slightly in 2012, but still not as robustly as pre-recession years, according to a report being released today.

California's 68 tribal casinos raked in $6.96 billion in 2012, the most recent year available, according to Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report.

That was nearly a 1 percent increase over the $6.91 billion they collected in 2011.

It was the second year of positive growth for California tribal casinos after experiencing three consecutive years of decline, according to the author, Alan Meister, an economist with Nathan Associates Inc.

The 2012 growth was slightly lower than the year before.

He said the trend has mirrored the economy's sluggish growth overall.

"Gaming is tied in large part to your disposable income," Meister said Tuesday. "When people don't have jobs, or they have lower paying jobs, or high tax burdens and end up having less money to spend to pay rent, the mortgage, car and food necessities, they have less for entertainment, like gaming."

The latest figures fall well short of the record $7.8 billion in revenues California's Indian casinos collected in 2007, prior to the recession.

California holds the largest share -- 25 percent -- of nationwide Indian gambling revenue, which stood at about $28.1 billion in 2012, according to Meister's report.

He said the performance of Indian gambling was both positive and negative.

"While it was good to see Indian gaming continue to grow on a nationwide basis, the fact that it grew at a slower pace than 2011, its pre-recession pace, and other casino gaming segments in 2012, was a cause for concern," he stated.

According to his estimates, Indian casinos in the U.S. and their nongambling operations directly generated approximately $31.7 billion in output, supported about 291,000 jobs and $12.3 billion in wages.

Meister said that nationwide, about two-thirds of Indian casinos experienced growth in revenues while about 34 percent experienced declines.

In Southern California, two smaller Indian casinos went out of business in 2012.

Closer to home, River Rock Casino near Geyserville, operated by the Dry Creek Rancheria Band of Pomo Indians, has seen a precipitous drop in its revenues since Graton Resort and Casino opened next to Rohnert Park in November.

Meister's latest statistics precede the opening of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria's massive casino, which consultants predicted would bring in nearly $533 million in annual gambling revenues within two years.

It's "a powerhouse project" in an area where there is no comparable competitor, according to tribal gambling law attorney Dennis Whittlesey in Washington, D.C., who has worked on multiple casino development projects.

Meister wouldn't predict how other area casinos will fare with Graton's arrival.

In addition to River Rock in Sonoma County, there are seven Indian casinos in Mendocino County and four in Lake County.

Whether Graton spurs a growth in the existing market "or cannibalization of existing facilities is probably too early to tell," he said.

"Often there can be an initial impact that can settle down over time," he said of the opening of a new casino.

People may flock to something new, but they will also stick with the casino where they feel lucky or better taken care of, or that's less crowded, he said.

Casinos that are a destination resort, with a hotel and golf course, for example, can draw from a wider area, according to Doug Elmets, who represents five tribes, including those that operate Thunder Valley and Jackson Rancheria casinos closer to Sacramento.

"My clients are doing extremely well," he said Tuesday, declining to go into detail. "I wouldn't put a percentage on it."

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@

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