Gambling opponents 'here for long term'
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
Business leaders who oppose legalized gambling in Hawai'i said they are digging in for a long fight because it's clear the issue will not die any time soon.
"Forces from the outside have come to say gambling is good for business and won't produce social problems, but we're absolutely opposed to gambling," said Francis Oda, chief executive officer of the Group 70 International engineering firm. "We're here for the long term because we live here."
Jack Hoag, chairman of Hawai'i Reserves Inc., said he hoped business executives and groups that have not taken a stand on gambling would join the opposition.
"I think the more business people study the issue, they'll see it's an unfavorable economic return, because the gambling proponents are not factoring in the social costs," Hoag said.
He and several others who held a news conference at the Capitol yesterday said they feared that legalized gambling would increase crime, suicide, debt, divorce and other problems.
Professor William Thompson of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, an author and gambling expert who is in Honolulu at the invitation of casino opponents, said he is not personally against gambling but was skeptical that casinos would benefit Hawai'i.
"You really have to ask: Where will the profits go?" he said. "I don't think they (casino developers) are philanthropists and are going to start distributing money to Hawai'i residents. The profits will leave."
Thompson said that his airfare and hotel accommodations had been paid for by the Honolulu Police Department, which also opposes gambling, but that he was not being paid to speak about the issue here. Police Maj. Darryl Perry, commander of the narcotics and vice division, said the expenses will total $2,500.
Two groups of investors, who own casinos in Detroit and the Bahamas, are seeking legislative approval for rival plans to build casinos on O'ahu but haven't had much luck so far. A House committee rejected bills for both proposals on Saturday.
Jim Boersema, a lobbyist for Sun International Hotels, which hopes to build a resort and casino in Leeward O'ahu, said the plan would give the economy a much-needed boost.
"It brings something we desperately need: jobs," he said. "I know a lot of these business leaders and respect them a lot, but in this case I believe their personal feelings are overriding their sense of business and that they are out of step with the majority of the people who work for them."
The second group of gambling proponents, led by partners in a Detroit casino, announced Tuesday that it had collected 25,000 petition signatures from residents who support the legalization of limited gambling in Hawai'i. The group hopes to build two casinos, in Leeward O'ahu and at Waikiki.
Reach Johnny Brannon at email@example.com or 525-8070.