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Tuesday, September 23, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Last-minute attempt to authorize a casino goes nowhere

By Richard Borreca

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We in Hawaii are a tolerant bunch, but we don't go to the prom with just anyone.

That's why the supporters of casino gambling in Waikiki need to get to know the folks, before assuming it is time to pick a corsage and rent the limo.

Last Thursday afternoon, Sens. Malama Solomon (D, Hilo-Honokaa) and Donovan Dela Cruz (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) offered up a casino gambling bill during a House-Senate conference on an entirely different subject.

"The Senate considers this a possible revenue generator," Solomon told the House members.

The bill has been popping up and down with little success all session long.

The proposal would set up a gaming commission, require a free-standing casino to be built in Waikiki and require those applying for the single license to give the state $1 million.

The commission would pick an operator who would provide the most economic, social and cultural return to the state. The license holder would be required to invest $50 million to develop and build the casino and the monthly gross receipts would be subject to a 15 percent state tax.

To sweeten the deal, the license holder would give the state a one-time fee of $150 million.

The proposal was handed over to Rep. Joe Souki, who, although a strong supporter of gambling, pronounced the bill just about dead for this session.

"It is a wonderful opportunity, but nothing is going to happen this late in the session," Souki said in an interview in his office after the hearing.

Souki deferred the bill. But he could resuscitate it next year.

The idea, Souki explained, is that the casino would not be permitted in a hotel, so would not compete with existing hotels. Hotel operators in Waikiki say they do not favor gambling or a casino in Waikiki.

Souki says gambling would be a "new income stream" and compared it to the tax breaks the state may give to lure investors to build a studio here to attract the film industry.

"This is money coming in, compared to us paying businesses to come here," Souki said.

All this has attracted the attention of Boyd Gaming Corp.

"The California, Fremont and Main Street Station cater to an intensely loyal customer base from Hawaii," Boyd reports on its corporate Web page.

"Through our Hawaiian travel agency, Vacations Hawaii, we operate as many as five charter flights from Honolulu to Las Vegas each week, helping to ensure a stable supply of air transportation," Boyd said in its 2010 SEC report.

So if there are honest concerns about changing the ambiance of Hawaii by including gambling, there is a definite economic concern that legalizing gambling here would hurt Boyd on the mainland.

Back in 2001, former Gov. Ben Cayetano explored the issue of gambling and a lottery for Hawaii. He decided against a lottery, speculating it would only bring in $5 million to $10 million a year. Also, a series of predominantly anti-gambling hearings were conducted across the state, but there has been little public debate.

It is time to stop playing "midnight at the sausage factory" by trying to slip in a last-minute gambling bill. Hawaii should have a full chance to fill the Capitol with people both for and against it, pack the committee hearings and spend a long time getting used to the idea, before actually taking a defining vote on gambling.

———

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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