By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief
Charles Toguchi, a lobbyist and close friend of Gov. Ben Cayetano, is distancing himself from a proposal to legalize casino gambling in Hawaii.
Toguchi said yesterday he turned down an offer to lobby for the Hawaii representatives of a hotel company that wants to build an $800 million resort and casino at Ko Olina.
Sun International Hotels Inc. hopes to build a 1,500-room resort and casino at Ko Olina, but must first persuade Cayetano and the Legislature to legalize gambling and authorize at least one casino license.
A bill backed by the company would use tax collections from the casino operation to finance college scholarships.
Toguchi accompanied Cayetano on a trip to the Bahamas Dec. 9-13 to visit Atlantis Resort, which is owned by Sun International. A spokesman for Sun International initially said Toguchi was hired to lobby lawmakers to set up a scholarship fund financed by taxes on gambling, but Toguchi said he turned down the lobbying job.
"The governor will not support gaming just because Charlie Toguchi is involved in something like this, so to clear the air, I think its best that I not get involved in receiving any compensation from anybody regarding gaming or the (college) scholarship," Toguchi said.
In any event, Toguchi said: "I had no discussions with the governor either here in Hawaii or on the trip to the Bahamas about supporting gaming. None whatsoever."
He said he was asked to help develop the scholarship proposal, and said he may still lobby without pay for the fund. While he personally favors gambling under certain conditions, Toguchi said, how the scholarships are financed will be up to lawmakers.
Toguchi said he never received any pay for lobbying in connection with the casino proposal or the scholarships.
Bert A. Kobayashi, a construction executive and another close friend of Cayetano, also was in the Bahamas with the governor when Cayetano toured the Atlantis Resort, the governors office confirmed yesterday.
Kobayashi has been involved in major building projects in Kapolei, several miles from the sites Sun is considering for its project.
Cayetano has described both Toguchi and Kobayashi as "dear friends."
Kobayashi attracted attention in 1998 when a company affiliated with him was awarded more than $40 million in non-bid design, planning and construction projects, including work on the Kapolei middle and high schools.
The company that won the contracts was Makai Villages Partnership. Kobayashi is president and director of PAB Investment Corp., a partner in Makai Villages.
Cayetano press secretary Kim Murakawa said Kobayashi "independently decided" to travel to the Bahamas, and accompanied the governor as he toured the hotel and casino.
The resort boasts the largest aquarium in the world, and Cayetano is proposing a major new aquarium project for Kakaako.
When asked if Kobayashi urged the governor to take a position on the Sun International project for Hawaii, Murakawa replied: "Mr. Kobayashi was there when business discussions took place, but he did not participate in those discussions. He was just there listening, and he never encouraged the governor one way or another on this project at all."
Kobayashi could not be reached for comment this week.
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