Hawaii gambling bills advance in House
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
A bill that could lead to casinos on Hawaiian Home Lands passed out of the state House Judiciary Committee, while a separate measure that would allow a single casino on O'ahu also advanced yesterday.
House Bill 2759 authorizes the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to allow gaming casinos on Hawaiian Homes parcels as it deems necessary. That bill moved out of the Judiciary Committee yesterday after lengthy testimony.
Another measure, House Bill 2251, would allow for creation of a gaming commission that would issue a single five-year license to a casino operator on O'ahu. That bill received the second of three votes in the House yesterday, although a sizeable number of representatives voted no.
House Judiciary chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu, who wrote the single-casino measure, said the state's economic budget woes warrant a closer look at gambling proposals.
The Democratic leadership in the House has encouraged keeping a gaming bill alive as an alternative to raising taxes, Karamatsu said. "I'm just trying to keep the options open as far as revenue generation for the state," he said.
The Hawaiian Homes casino bill advanced out of the Judiciary Committee despite continued opposition from Hawaiian Homes Commission chairman Kaulana Park and a host of others, including Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.
House Hawaiian Affairs chairwoman Mele Carroll, the bill's lead author, said the bill would help DHHL maintain a steady source of income, noting that an annual $30 million distribution for the state's use of Hawaiian Home Lands is expected to end in 2014.
Thanks, but no thanks, Park said. "While we appreciate the author's intent to provide additional financial resources to the department, this particular activity is a departure from our current activities we use to generate revenues," he said.
"This is a really, really bad idea," Carlisle said. "Whenever there's an economic downturn, we start looking for desperate ways to get money. This is a desperate way to get money. It invites crime, it invites all the people who can't afford it."
Downtown resident Violet Horvath, who is with the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said gambling addiction destroyed her parents' marriage, and nearly led to her mother killing her father to cash in on life insurance to sustain her habit.
"I have to live with that every day," Horvath said.
Lobbyist John Radcliffe, however, said that "making gambling legal in Hawai'i would be the most intelligent thing the Legislature could do this year."
Native American tribes in Wisconsin were among the poorest in the country when he was growing up in the Badger state, said Radcliffe, of Capitol Consultants of Hawaii. Today they are among the most financially well-off, he said.
Further, he said, "Wisconsin did not fall into a deep pit of degradation and sin."
Several Judiciary Committee members voted against the bill.
Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Wai'alae Iki, Kalani Valley, Kähala), said "there's so many places you can put them on — all the islands — it may really be a bit much."
Under the proposal, DHHL would receive 80 percent of the proceeds from the casino while the state general fund would get the remaining 20 percent share.
Karamatsu's single-casino plan also has detractors. Eighteen of the 51 House members voted against the measure, which now goes to the Finance Committee.
Originally, the bill attempted to bar Hawai'i residents from playing in the one casino. But that provision was taken out after some House members questioned its constitutionality.
A third gambling measure would have put the question of whether gaming should be allowed in Hawai'i in the hands of voters in the form of a constitutional amendment. But House Bill 146 was shelved by the Judiciary Committee yesterday.
Several gambling bills remain alive in the Senate, including ones that would legalize slots and video games, a type of lottery, and a state-sponsored "scratch" card game. None of those bills have received any committee hearings or are scheduled to be heard, making it unlikely they will make it out of the Senate.