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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, January 11, 2002

Inouye strongly opposes gambling

By William Cole
Advertiser Military Writer

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye spoke out forcefully yesterday against legalized gambling, saying: "The worst thing we could hope to do for the state of Hawai'i is have gaming here."

Sen. Daniel Inouye, left, talks with state Rep. Neil Abercrombie at a Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii luncheon at which he blasted legalized gambling.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

In a speech to business, government and military leaders in Waikiki, Inouye bluntly condemned gambling as corrosive to the state's unique social fabric and image as a relaxing, family-friendly vacation destination.

He said the suggestion that gambling could generate money to help pay for public education was "sinful."

"Who's kidding who?" he said. "The people who will come to this hotel will be a different type of people. It will not be the type you see now with their children, young folks spending their honeymoon.

"They will be coming here possibly to gamble, and anyone who knows anything about gambling will know that no more than five percent win."

The rest lose, he said, and that will hurt business at shopping centers and restaurants.

"The casino operator will make the money," he said. "And is that going to help tourism? No way."

Inouye's comments received scattered applause from the audience of several hundred people gathered at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii's annual luncheon with military officials.

The Legislature is expected to consider legalizing at least one form of gambling in Hawai'i this year as a way of energizing the tourism business and creating jobs.

While Inouye has no say in state matters, his opinion carries significant weight with Hawai'i's Democratic leaders as well as with many voters, and his vehement opposition would present a significant obstacle to advocates of legalization.

Inouye did talk briefly about one federal law indirectly related to gambling that he would be able to influence — the Jones Act.

Inouye has been asked to consider a Hawai'i exemption from the law that would allow foreign-registered cruise liners to operate directly between the Islands without having to make a foreign port of call.

Inouye said he would consider the exemption, but only if the ships use American labor, follow American laws, pay federal taxes and operate without any form of gambling aboard.

"So if they want Jones Act revisions so that they can bring the cruise ships here, be my guest. But no gaming," Inouye said. "It starts that way. 'Just on the ship. Bingo. That's all we want.' Get your foot in the door, and that's it, the beginning of the end."

Gov. Ben Cayetano last month said he would ask Inouye to consider legislation exempting cruise ships from the Jones Act, which forces liners such as the new

Honolulu-based Norwegian Star to head 600 miles south to Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati on each interisland cruise. The cruise line also was forced to close its shipboard casino.

Cayetano previously has said allowing gambling on interisland cruise ships would be good for the state and should be allowed as long as betting takes place outside Hawai'i coastal waters.

Inouye cited higher crime rates, welfare dependence and pervasive social and economic problems in cities that have legalized gambling.

"Yes, the operations may be doing all right, but what about the folks?" Inouye said. "It may provide employment for those who work in the casino, but what about the mom-and-pop stores? What about the shopping centers? What about the restaurants? They won't like it."

This week Cayetano said Hawai'i voters should be the ones to decide about gambling, and he proposed putting a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Inouye said that while such an idea sounds commendable, he believes elected officials are put in office to make those kinds of decisions.

"If we had constantly called upon the people to have a referendum on every touchy issue, then why elect us?" Inouye said after his speech. "The main referendum comes in November. If our vote in the legislative body is an improper one, one that the people of Hawai'i don't support, they can vote us out."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-5459.