Legislation would allow casino operations on Hawaiian Home Lands
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Casino operations could take place on Hawaiian Home Lands under a bill that advanced out of the House Hawaiian Affairs Committee yesterday.
The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and Hawaiian Homes Commission said they oppose House Bill 2759 but several others supported the idea.
The bill calls for 80 percent of revenues generated from gambling operations to go toward development of Hawaiian Homes communities. The remaining 20 percent would be deposited into the state general fund.
The commission and department have long been criticized for being slow to meet their main charge of delivering housing opportunities for those with 50 percent or more Hawaiian blood.
There were an estimated 25,000 people on the waiting list for home opportunities as of Dec. 31, DHHL executive assistant Robert Hall reported.
House Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Mele Carroll, a bill co-sponsor, pointed out that while DHHL receives $30 million annually for state use of Hawaiian Home Lands, that money runs out after 2014.
Allowing the commission to set up casinos in Hawaiian Homes communities it deems proper could help make up for that lost money and possibly provide significantly more.
"This is a mechanism to allow for the Hawaiian Homes Commission to consult with their beneficiaries," Carroll said.
Carroll visited the Tulalip Resort Casino in Washington, about 30 minutes outside of Seattle.
"We know that our people love to gamble," Carroll said after the meeting. "It is part of our culture. Not for all, but for some."
Hall said DHHL is projected to generate about $20 million on lease rents and other revenues annually.
Lobbyist John Radcliffe, a longtime supporter of legalizing gambling in Hawai'i, said a 2000 study estimated a single casino in Hawai'i could generate as much as $350 million annually.
Radcliffe said Hawai'i residents spend billions on illegal gambling locally and at casinos in other states. That money could be used to create jobs and wealth here, he said.
Kale Gumapac, of the Native Hawaiian group Kanaka Council Moku O Keawe, said he also went on the Tulalip trip and came away impressed by first-class medical and dental facilities that had been built for the Tulalip tribes with the proceeds from the operation of its casino.
Gumapac said tribal leaders told him without the money, the quality of life for the tribes would regress to that of the 1930s.
Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman Kaulana Park, in written testimony, said his agency is "concerned about the potential disadvantages associated with gaming like negative impacts to local businesses, difficulties with and cost of regulation, and social costs which may unintentionally cause a negative impact to our beneficiaries and the state."
Park added: "We cannot support an initiative like this that would work against the rehabilitation of Native Hawaiians as envisioned by our founder, Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole."
Gov. Linda Lingle has repeatedly opposed legalized gambling as a solution to the state's recent economic crisis. Lawrence Reifurth, the state's director of commerce and consumer affairs, reiterated her position yesterday in written testimony.
City law enforcement officials also testified against the bill.
City Deputy Prosecutor Lori Nishimura said gambling is a form of regressive tax that usually has a significant impact on those least able to afford it.
Attendant crimes such as prostitution and other offenses also can increase, Nishimura said.
The Hawai'i Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, the League of Women Voters, and Hawai'i Family Forum also testified in opposition, speaking of the social ills that are often associated with gambling addicts.
Carroll said that despite DHHL's opposition, she hopes the agency would take the matter into the community to hear what Hawaiians have to say about the proposal.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of discussion within our communities, possibly both for and against," Hall said.
The latest version of the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, which would create a process that could lead to creation of a Native Hawaiian governing entity that would be recognized and negotiate with the federal government, contains specific language disallowing gambling. The so-called Akaka bill is expected to be heard by both houses of Congress this year.
Separately today, the House Judiciary Committee will take up House Bill 2251, which would establish a gambling commission that would issue a single, five-year casino gambling license on O'ahu. The bill would bar Hawai'i residents from taking part in the gambling.