VICTORIA - An audit of a British Columbia program that distributes millions of dollars in gaming grants to non-profit groups has found the government needs to ensure the money is used as intended.

Auditor general Carol Bellringer said Wednesday that nearly $135 million of gaming revenue has been handed out in each of the last five years to about 5,000 organizations.

She said that while the government's overall management of the program is suitable, improvements are needed because a lot of money is distributed - over $1 billion in the last decade from revenue collected at casinos and bingo halls.

Bellringer said the government must provide specific eligibility requirements that grant analysts and recipients will follow and give information on how it tracks spending of grant money.

Clarity about timely reporting exists but the audit found the government did not strictly enforce the requirement, she said.

“We saw a number of cases where grants were given even though recipients had not yet submitted their report on how the prior year's grant was used.”

Improvements are also needed for one-time grants when organizations face exceptional circumstances, Bellringer said.

“We also found that the ministry does not advertise these special one-time grants, resulting in organizations not knowing they are out there.”

Several grants that were given after appeals lacked documentation to justify the decision, Bellringer said.

She said the government hasn't reviewed the program since 2011 to consider whether enough money is being awarded and if there is a better way to get it to many volunteer-run groups that benefit communities.

Bellringer made 10 recommendations, including public reporting on its effectiveness in providing positive contributions to communities.

During the audit, the government transferred the administration of the program from the Finance Ministry to the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development in an effort to increase efficiency.

Peter Fassbender, who heads that ministry, said in a statement that some of Bellringer's recommendations have been assessed to come up with a policy and procedures manual to support a consistent and high-quality review of applications.