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Should Isles gamble on lottery?

Gaming bills stir debate -- and a look at state-run lotteries

By Dave Koga

LAST UPDATED: 1:56 a.m. HST, Feb 6, 2011

What if you could make all your cares go away? What if you could free yourself from debt? And what if all this happiness and peace of mind could be yours for only $1?

For state legislators facing the hard reality of a $844 million deficit now through the next two-year budget cycle, the stuff that dreams are made of might finally be too enticing to ignore.

Measures to legalize gambling in the islands circulate through the Capitol every legislative session but to date have gone nowhere. Hawaii and Utah remain the only states without some form of commercial gaming.

Now, with Gov. Neil Abercrombie willing to listen to ideas for legalized gambling to increase state revenues, it appears possible that could change.

Casino and shipboard gambling bills have been introduced. So has a ballot measure that would allow video slot and poker machines in Waikiki -- provided they can't be seen from the street.

Perhaps the most intriguing proposal calls for a study to determine if Hawaii should join 31 other states already working together to operate multi-jurisdictional lotteries such as Powerball, which offers millions of dollars in prizes weekly.

Polls indicate growing acceptance of lotteries, and nearly every state now operates some form of the game.

In tough economic times, a lottery offers the promise of a steady stream of income for worthy projects -- such as education -- without having to raise taxes.

But there are also persistent questions about who ends up winning, who ends up losing, and whether in the long run a state-run lottery is worth the gamble.

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