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Wednesday, October 22, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Chances still slim that Hawaii will get gambling

By Richard Borreca

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Go ahead, bet on gambling in Hawaii -- see what happens.

This is a good year for gambling to get a hearing in Hawaii.

That's it, just a hearing; anything else would be impossibly long odds.

Still there are people who put down money week after week in hopes of being the one in 170 million who will win the mega-lottery.

There are already more than a dozen ideas kicking around the Legislature for two big reasons.

First, Hawaii continues to run a deficit. After three years of cutting back services, delaying projects and finally even laying off state workers, Hawaii still does not have enough projected income to meet its projected expenses.

Supporters contend gambling would solve some of that problem with a casino in Waikiki.

Building it would provide construction jobs, operating it would give the state more service industry jobs and the operators would pay some sort of tax or fee that would put money directly into the state's general fund.

How much is anyone's guess. There are already estimates of upwards of $100 million a year.

The second reason for the increased number of gambling proposals is that the state's unfunded liabilities continue to grow. Now estimated at more than $10 billion, the state owes more people more money every day.

We owe state workers more for medical insurance costs and we owe state retirees more to fund their pensions.

Sen. Clayton Hee chairs the Judiciary Committee and this is not the first time he's been to the rodeo.

He recalls that 20 years ago when now-Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Gov. Ben Cayetano were in the Senate with him, they had helped to push out bills supporting off-track betting, bingo and shipboard gambling.

The history is not to suggest that those are the sorts of things he favors this year, but Hee explained it shows that the Legislature is always against gambling.

If there is something of a semi-chance with the Legislature, what about upstairs? Will Abercrombie veto a gambling bill?

"I am virtually certain the governor would sign it. He is not opposed to gambling; he has no moral stand on the issue," says John Radcliffe, lobbyist, former union official and Abercrombie confidant.

A decade ago Radcliffe was actively lobbying for a casino here; today, he says that he has no paying gambling clients but still is campaigning for gambling.

Radcliffe says Abercrombie is looking to see how the public policy debate about gambling unfolds. If the Legislature passes a gambling bill, it would go a long way toward showing that there is public support.

"If they pass it, he will sign it, he is not going to substitute his thinking for that of the Legislature," Radcliffe figures.

In the past, gambling has been opposed by both former Gov. Linda Lingle and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

If one of the many gambling or casino bills does pop out of the Legislature, it would not be something that would balance next year's budget; it would be a means of paying down future government costs.

Today the only safe bet is that it will be a long and wild ride before gamblers walk into a Waikiki casino.

------

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com






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