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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 14, 2010

Well-run operation will enhance state's image as visitor destination

By Rep. Joe Souki

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Photo illustration by russell mccrory

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When I talk about gambling for Hawai'i, I don't mean Las Vegas, which is a gambling destination. I don't mean a state lottery, which creates few jobs and does not bring new money into the state. I don't mean a quick fix just because our economy is in poor shape right now. For all of those reasons, gambling would be a mistake.

What I do mean is a single, stand-alone casino, separate and apart from established hotels, restaurants and other facilities in Waikīkī, where visitors and residents can go for entertainment.

Hawai'i used to be a premier resort destination, but our star has become dull. If we want to recapture our first-class standing with Mainland and international visitors, we need to offer new activity as part of a long-range plan to refresh tourism development. Carefully planned, the right kind of gambling will complement our natural beauty, support the significant infrastructure already in place, and benefit Hawai'i for the future.

Here's why:

• New jobs will be created.

An economic impact analysis prepared in 2000 identified increases in construction jobs to build the casino as well as permanent jobs at the casino. The casino activity will attract more visitors to Waikīkī, and that will create more jobs at the hotels, restaurants and other businesses that support tourism. In addition, the casino will be a purchaser of goods and services, also supporting job creation. The report was based on building two casinos, creating 19,575 new jobs. Therefore, one casino may net 9,000 to 10,000 new jobs.

• A casino will generate new revenue for the state. The same report concludes that significant revenue will come from the casino, which will pay some form of gaming tax based upon total gaming revenues, state income taxes from the jobs created and sales/excise taxes on non-gaming spending such as food, beverage and lodging. For one casino built, the report estimates that total governmental revenues generated could exceed $50 million annually.

The fear and loathing of gambling by opponents must be addressed head-on. No one wants to go forward with an activity that will be detrimental to the public.

Will there be an increase in crime? The federal government's National Gambling Impact Study cited a report which studied 10 districts with casinos and found "little documentation of a causal relationship" between casinos and crime, and that "taken as a whole, the literature shows that communities with casinos are just as safe as communities that do not have casinos."

A casino in Waikīkī should not add to crime. People turn to crime when they need money for drugs or are unemployed. By creating jobs and increasing revenue, a casino may help those who would otherwise turn to crime, and the money generated could be used for much needed social programs.

Will a casino lead to an increase in addicted gamblers? The sad reality is that those with an addiction are already finding ways to feed their gambling addiction, through frequent trips to Las Vegas or at illegal places in Hawai'i.

There is no state program that currently addresses this problem, and there should be. If the state goes forward with a casino, legislation should include a provision to fund assistance programs for gambling addiction.

Will Hawai'i's image be tarnished? The opposite is true. Done the right way, a well-run casino will help Hawai'i's image as a visitor destination. We don't aim to be a gambling destination. People come to Hawai'i for the tropical beauty and that will never change. However, repeat visitors will look for new activities and entertainment, especially in the evenings.

While Hawai'i faces a severe economic downturn, this may be the opportune time when people will be more open to the concept of allowing gambling in our state. Let me be clear that this is not a quick fix for our current budget woes.

It will take several years to plan, design and build a single casino. No one can deny that without tourism our economy will die, and our state leaders must plan now to keep Hawai'i competitive as a world-class visitor destination. A casino should be part of an overall vision for Hawai'i's future.