Fee might need 5 years to rule on gambling

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The Hawaiian Home Lands Commission would have until Dec. 31, 2026 — more than five years — to figure out whether gambling is the best way to generate badly needed funds to clear the backlog of more than 28,000 Native Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries, under a revised bill scheduled to go back before the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Senate staff Thursday were “furiously” amending Senate Bill 1321 to include amendments suggested by state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, according to state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, chairwoman of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, which considered the amendments
Thursday.

The revised version of SB 1321 is expected to be posted before the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee takes up the bill again Tuesday.

Last week the House Economic Development Committee deferred the House version, all but killing it in the House.

The amendments by Dela Cruz are intended to address several concerns, including in the House, he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Thursday.

Instead of the Legislature deciding whether to lift Hawaii’s prohibition on all forms of legal gambling, the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission would exercise “self-determination” on how to proceed, and give commissioners enough time to deliberate a decision, Dela Cruz said.

They would not be limited on whether to allow a single resort casino, as originally envisioned, and could proceed with any form of gambling, including a casino, lottery, bingo and even horse racing, Dela Cruz said.

In December the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission voted 5-4 to
endorse the concept of a resort
casino and introduce it before the Legislature.

But the new proposal would require a “supermajority” of Home Lands commissioners — or six votes, compared with a simple majority of five votes, Dela Cruz said.

Shimabukuro said the amended version of SB 1321 also would not provide a “green light” for gambling “across the board” in Hawaii.

And it would specifically prohibit Native American Indian tribes from setting up gambling operations in the islands, Shimabukuro said.

She called Dela Cruz’s amendments “brilliant.”

“What he’s doing is giving the powers to the Hawaiians to decide for themselves,” Shimabukuro said.

Tyler Gomes, deputy to Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Chairman William Aila, told the
Hawaiian Affairs Committee that “we appreciate the affirmation of self-determination.”

State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole, vice chairman of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee, told the Star-
Advertiser that there still has been no identified, alternative source to generate millions of dollars of revenue to significantly reduce the backlog of DHHL beneficiaries.

“What are the actual alternatives?” he said. “If nothing is done differently this year, 13,000 beneficiaries over the age of 65 will only get older, or we would lose them.
It’s easy to criticize the department for whatever failure you’d like to criticize them for … but we have 28,000 people on the wait list and everyone in Hawaii knows how
expensive a home is.”

Gomes said that giving Home Lands commissioners five years to consider the issue would allow “for the department to do due diligence.”

The original version of SB 1321 was opposed by the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office and Honolulu Police Department, along with a petition signed by 15,600 people that was organized by Hawaiian Affairs Committee member state Sen. Kurt Fevella, the Senate Republican minority leader and minority floor leader.

Fevella remained opposed to the amended bill, which he told the Star-
Advertiser would allow gambling to prey “on the poor working man, the people who are already struggling” who think, “Bring it home for daddy, bring it home for mommy.”

“Gaming, gambling in Hawaii will change us forever,” Fevella said. “People come to Hawaii for our beautiful oceans, our beautiful scenery.”

The Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Thursday also considered two new bills: SB 85, which would allow DHHL to pursue “lottery and bingo enterprises,” and SB 86, which would allow DHHL to “engage in
the operation of medical cannabis dispensaries.”

Both bills are expected to return to the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Tuesday, Shimabukuro said.