Hawaii gambling bills stall, lottery hopes pushed back

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The odds of Hawaii allowing any form of legal gambling anytime soon grew longer on Wednesday when three more gaming bills stalled in the House, including one that would allow a casino atop the Hawai‘i Convention Center.

Rep. Sean Quinlan, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee, deferred House Bill 383, which would have created a state poker commission to oversee live poker rooms; HB772, which would have allowed a casino on the Hawai‘i Convention Center that would require players to stay in an Oahu hotel for each day or night of gaming; and HB736, which would establish a pilot program for digital sports betting platforms.

Later Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee voted to approve Senate Bill 816, which would create a state lottery. But committee Chairwoman Michelle Kidani amended the bill to push the creation of a lottery from Jan. 1, 2022 to Jan. 1, 2023 to allow a task force and future lottery commission additional time to organize the structure for a lottery.

Last week, Quinlan deferred a controversial bill that would allow the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to build a casino near Kapolei to generate millions of dollars of badly needed tax revenues to help clear the backlog of more than 28,000 DHHL beneficiaries waiting for homes and land.

The Senate’s version of the DHHL casino proposal — Senate Bill 1321 — is scheduled to be heard today before the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee.

Even if SB1321 passes out of committee, state Rep. John Mizuno said the House has signaled that now is not the time to break Hawaii’s prohibition on any legalized gambling. Only Hawaii and Utah bar all forms of legal gambling.

Mizuno, vice speaker of the House, authored the bill to allow creation of a casino at the Hawai‘i Convention Center and said the will of the House seems clear despite Hawaii’s economic troubles and the backlog of Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries.

“The time is not right at this point,” Mizuno said.

Asked if the DHHL casino bill has any hope this session, Mizuno said it’s unlikely to proceed should the Senate move its version to the House.

Mizuno laughed and said, “I wouldn’t bet on it. I don’t see it seeing the light of day.”

Technically the gambling bills that Rep. Quinlan deferred can be resurrected in the House.

For practical purposes, Mizuno said, “It’s a nice way of saying they’re dead. You can always put it back on the agenda but I don’t see them coming back. They (House leaders) just don’t feel strongly (in support) when it comes to gaming bills.”

Mizuno has supported gambling bills before and hopes that it will just take time before Hawaii ends its prohibition on legal gambling.

He compared the ongoing gambling effort to the decades-long pushes to legalize same-sex marriage and so-called death with dignity.

“The great equalizer is time,” Mizuno said. “Gaming is another controversial issue whose time has not yet come.”

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