Hawaii’s Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs has rekindled the hopes for the construction of a casino resort in the state by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). This is refreshing news for local pro-gambling factions particularly since the House Committee on Economic Development killed off the House version of a gambling legalization bill early last week.
The Senate which had its own bill on the table; Senate Bill 1321, made an amendment a few days ago to introduce a clause that would give the DHHL the power to establish a framework for legal gambling in the Aloha State.
Another amendment to the original SB 1321 was also presented, effectively giving the Hawaiian Homes Commission 5 years to work out the specifics of the legal forms of gambling it would allow. It could be a full slate of gambling, from table and card casino games to bingo, lottery and even betting on horses or just a limited offering.
In a statement, William J. Aila Jr, the chairperson of the Hawaiian Homes Commission backed the good news saying;
“We are supportive of the amendments made by the Senate Committee on Hawaiian Affairs to SB 1321 that would allow the Hawaiian Homes Commission and their beneficiaries the authority to create a gaming operation.
“If successful, this measure would provide DHHL a consistent source of funding in order to develop homestead lots. That is our purpose, and in order to do that, the Department needs a consistent source of funding for infrastructure construction.”
Heavy Opposition Still Haunts Hawaii’s Legal Gambling Pursuit
However, even with this positive movement, gambling legalization in the Paradise of the Pacific isn’t a sure bet just yet as the opposition it faces can’t be overlooked. Two of the five members of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee are strongly against the measure and they are fighting hard to shoot it down.
Senator Laura Acasio of District 1 in Hilo, one of the committee members voiced her unwavering disapproval of SB 1321 in a statement;
“This measure is egregiously divisive. … Settler culture seems to love to watch Hawaiians fight against Hawaiians, and this measure, in my experience with constituents and those writing in, is exactly that — adding to more deep historical trauma, generational cultural trauma.”
Kurt Fevella, a Republican senator of District 19, and the minority floor leader who is the other opposer of SB 1321 has even gone as far as getting 15,600 Hawaiians to sign a petition for rejecting the bill.
Well, the amended SB 1321 can only be approved by the proverbial supermajority two-thirds rule in the legislature and the supporters will then have to figure out a fitting business model for the launch of regulated gambling in the Aloha State.
Per the Senate Bill, the DHHL needs more than $6 million to cover infrastructure costs alone, and the sum gets significantly larger if maintenance costs of about 10,000 current lessee beneficiaries among other associated costs are considered. Part of SB 1321 reads;
“…in the face of an unprecedented and historic budget shortfall as a result of the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the department of Hawaiian home lands must seek alternative means of revenue.
One alternative is the development of an integrated resort that includes limited casino gaming on Hawaiian home lands designated for commercial use on the island of Oahu, excluding lands west of Ko Olina in order to address the staggering budget shortfall this century through increased revenue for both beneficiaries and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.”
Given Hawaii’s reputation as a top traveling destination globally, it could easily become the gambling mecca of the Pacific Ocean. Thus, should gambling be okayed in subsequent hearings of the measure, and an integrated casino resort is constructed, the state will surely manage to pull in enough funding for DHHL’s housing project in no time.