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Politics // The Right Price
Larry Price

So What Do You Want To Bet?

Lawmakers promised – and delivered – legislation that would prompt heated discussion on legalized gambling in the state of Hawaii.

Bills before the Legislature cover the entire spectrum of the gaming business. A total of 18 bills in the Senate and 14 in the House of Representatives all have quietly passed first reading and assignment to other committees, namely the Judiciary. There is little question that these bills will create quite a discussion – as they always do, with pros and cons beaten to death in both chambers.

Some of the usual supporters of gambling have garnered support and early praise for their leadership. Big Island Sen. Malama Solomon introduced three separate gambling bills that cover a wide swath of the legislation. They include SB 766, relating to a lottery run by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT). The bill calls for the “investigation of the feasibility for Hawaii to participate in the multi-state Powerball lottery, operated by the Multi State Lottery Association of the Mega Millions Lottery, operated by the Mega Millions consortium or both.” This effort requires a report to the Legislature next year.

SB 767, also introduced by Solomon, would authorize shipboard gaming on vessels in state waters. The bill would establish a Hawaii gaming board within DBEDT, an admission tax and a wagering tax, and a gaming fund for the deposit of fees, taxes and fines.

Solomon also introduced SB 768, relating to Internet gambling. This bill would establish the Hawaii Internet lottery and gaming corporation for the purpose of conducting Internet gambling in Hawaii. It would allocate proceeds to capital improvements to public schools and the University of Hawaii system. SB769 would grant a 20-year license for one stand-alone casino in Waikiki not in a hotel, and monies for a compulsive-gambler program.

Probably the most interesting bill introduced by Solomon, SB 855, clarifies the authority of counties to adopt gambling laws that do not conflict with state laws. Finally, SB 918 was introduced, which authorizes a pilot pari-mutuel horse racing facility in Hawaii for five years.

The only other bills in the Senate that have a chance are SB 1250 and SB 1251, both introduced by Sen. Clayton Hee. They cover, among other things, bingo and raffles, and would establish a lottery commission to regulate organizations. This bill would be very popular with nonprofit groups.

And while most of the action appears to be in the Senate, House Speaker Joe Souki, as promised, has introduced similar legislation.

It’s interesting to note that there has not been much discussion on the issue of gambling yet, but obviously it is waiting for the right time for opponents to make their objections heard.

If I were a gambler, and I’m not, I’d bet very few, if any, of these proposals will pass through the Legislature and become law.

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