Panel votes unanimously to kill gambling bills
By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer
Lobbyists for legalized gambling in Hawai'i stepped up to the table yesterday, rattled the dice and watched snake eyes come up.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
Members of the House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee conducted a public forum on gambling legislation yesterday. After presentations by gaming advocates and foes, the panel voted to kill both bills.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
"Don't gamble with aloha," they said. "We don't think gambling works for Hawai'i." "Hawai'i doesn't need legalized gambling to be the No. 1 tourist destination in the world."
They cited increased crime, ruined lives, broken families, hidden financial costs, social degradation and a proliferation of the gambling culture as reasons enough that legalized gambling is a bad idea in the Islands.
When the last person sat down, nine members present on the state House Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs voted unanimously to kill both casino gambling bills under consideration most likely ending the gambling debate in Hawai'i for this year.
There was little discussion and no dissenting viewpoint among the committee members.
"We heard you loud and clear," said Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-49th (Kailua, Kane'ohe Bay Drive)
"The argument that gambling is needed for economic revitalization is just dead wrong," added Rep. Ed Case, D-23rd (Manoa).
Rep. Lei Ahu Isa, D-27th (Pu'unui, Alewa, Nu'uanu) who had been open to the idea of legalized gambling, complimented Dorothy Bobilin, president of the Hawai'i Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, for orchestrating a convincing campaign.
Casino proponents gave it their best shot, armed with color brochures, a professionally made video filled with impressive stats and expert commentary, and promises of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in additional annual revenues at a time when the local economy is reeling.
They offered surveys that show more than half the population of Hawai'i gambles anyway, either legally elsewhere, or illegally at home. They presented figures indicating 90 percent of all gambling money would remain in the state. They said Hawai'i is losing the tourist destination contest.
"Great development is taking place outside of Hawai'i," said Howard Karawan, chief marketing officer for Sun International Resorts of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which has offered to build a world-class, billion-dollar resort and casino at Ko Olina in Leeward O'ahu.
"Hawai'i has lost its edge ... What we're proposing is a project that will bring Hawai'i back to the forefront."
But Claire Engle, speaking for herself, drew applause when she said, "Hawai'i is a community of givers. When you invite professional gambling interests to Hawai'i, you invite a community of takers ... Greed has never been a popular attitude in this community and does not mix well with genuine aloha spirit."
One person who also drew applause was Kauila Clark, who identified himself as neither a gambler nor a gambling advocate. Clark said he supported the Ko Olina casino concept because it presents genuine opportunities for folks in Leeward O'ahu who are struggling to survive in the face of fading welfare support, foreclosures, lost jobs and a state that has offered no other viable solutions.
"What can you as legislators offer to relieve this oppressive situation and create a more positive and hopeful future for families in Hawai'i?" he said.
Rep. Emily Auwae, R-44th (Wai'anae, Makaha) agreed that the situation is dire in West O'ahu, but concluded that gambling is not the right solution.
"We need to find another way," she said.
Committee chairman Eric Hamakawa, D-3rd (S. Hilo, Puna) summed up the committee sentiment when he told everyone present, "We've heard what the public thinks about this issue."
Apparently the gambling advocates got the message, too. Midway through the four-hour meeting, they already had left the building.