Hawaii, pressured by the effects of Covid-19, may finally be willing to consider legalized gambling. Several bills have now been proposed to help shore up the budget, using gambling to bring in new tax revenues.
House Speaker Scott Saiki has proposed House Bill 359, which would permit the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) to operate one casino resort. Funds generated would help native Hawaiians move back to ancestral lands, which with budget deficits expected, won’t be coming from anywhere else.
State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole proposed a similar bill for the upper house, but doesn’t seem convinced it’s a good idea yet. “We should have a discussion whether the casino plan is good, viable policy for the state to consider,” he said. “Given this budget situation, it’s not likely that the department will be likely to expect funding to accomplish that. … My priority is on addressing the wait list.”
The wait list he speaks of currently numbers at 28,000 native Hawaiians. Through the DHHL, they would be returned to their native lands to return to fishing, farming, or simply to have a home.
The concept has some support, having been approved by the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission through a 5-4 vote in December, 2020.
But there are other ideas of how to improve the state’s budget. Two senate bills (853 and 561) and a House Bill (363) all propose a state lottery. House Bill 772 proposes another single casino, a Las Vegas style resort at the Hawaii Convention Center. Another House Bill (457) goes much further, suggesting offshore gaming, a lottery and two casinos.
Budget deficits are expected to be $1.4 billion for the next four years, and Rep. John Mizuno, who supports the Convention Center casino, said the state badly needs an ambitious solution. “We need jobs, jobs, jobs. It’s worth a discussion.”
It would require a discussion. Hawaii currently has no legal forms of gambling.