- Legal States
Mike Johnson January 28, 2021 4 min read
Hawaii to Discuss Gambling Opportunities despite Skepticism
The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and legislators are coming together to discuss the possibility of introducing casino resort and gambling in the state. Hawaii is one of the two states to oppose gambling in full.
Hawaii Wants to Discuss Gambling After All
As Hawaii struggles to foot the public bill and faces widening budget deficit, lawmakers from the state are preparing to have a serious discussion about allowing the island’s first gambling activities in a bid to boost tourism, attract new audiences, and plug the deficit hole.
Hawaii is historically a place where gambling is prohibited in full. There is only one other state that does that – Utah. The opposition against potential legalization of gambling on the island is strong, and it draws opposition from the state governor, David Ige, too.
In fact, all leading political figures in the state, including Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki, are equally adamant in their opposition against the legalization of gambling.
Yet, it was Saiki who introduced HB 359, draft legislation that broaches the topic whether the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands should be allowed to run a casino property on department-owned land, something the DHHL clearly endorses.
He has not been the only one asking the question as more legislators, including Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, have also introduced similar petitions, with the possibility of a casino in Hawaii growing by the day.
Neither Keohokalole nor Saiki endorse gambling, but they both seem confident in eliciting opinions to arrive at an objective conclusion that is not based on prejudice. As Keohokalole puts it, the state should discuss whether gaming is a good policy.
Hawaii’s residents are frequent flyers to Las Vegas and the stories of native residents winning big in Nevada are many.
The DHHL Proposal Remains a Contentious Topic
Should the DHHL proposal clear, this means Hawaii will not just see a casino property open doors, but also welcome establishments that are selling alcohol 24/7 along with a golf course, aquariums, sporting events and various theme parks.
In a way, DHHL would seek to emulate the casino resorts build around the world and specifically in Asia that try to attract diverse leisure and business class of travelers who want a getaway from their busy lives.
Should a project like this succeeds, it would generate bulky tax revenue for the state’s Home Lands program and help boost ailing finances. The Hawaiian Home Lands program is important and it aims to return Native Hawaiians to their homelands by encouraging various initiatives.
Many people have been on the waitlist for decades now and to realize the project in full, the DHHL needs funding – around $6 billion to just cover infrastructure, let alone ensure sustainability. The DHHL is looking into casino gaming as a potential opportunity to expedite the process.
The Department is not playing nice either, proposing a 45% wagering tax upfront, among the highest proposed taxes anywhere in the United States where gambling is legal.
A Flurry of Gambling Bills to Watch Out For
Presently, there have been numerous bills introduced. Many focus on the creation of a state lottery, which is seen as the most innocuous form of gambling entertainment. Specifically, SB 853, SB 561, and HB 363 should see to it that a state lottery bolsters the University of Hawaii.
Another possible bill is HB 457 which explores numerous gambling verticals, including offshore venues that could be set up to direct gambling outside the most populated areas if the need is, and allow Hawaii to preserve its authentic touristic destination while catering to tourists who love to gamble at the same time.
Not least, there is HB 772 which wants to create a Las Vegas casino right on top of Hawai’i Convention Center, which is endorsed by Rep. John Mizuno, vice house speaker, and who wants to turn this potential project into a magnet for tourists.
The way Mizuno sees it, there will be a fee and if any of the locals wish to gamble, they would have to also pay the fee and stay within the designated area for that. While no particular bill is likely to make progress this year, it’s evident that Hawaii is beginning to reconsider its objection to gambling.