Thursday, November 26, 2015         

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Gambling bill's delay could signal tough row

By B.J. Reyes


A series of proposals aimed at generating money for the state through gambling, casinos or a multistate lottery face a tough fight in the Legislature.

The first — and so far only — of some 17 gaming-related bills to receive a public hearing was deferred yesterday.

House Tourism Chairman Tom Brower said he would talk to colleagues to determine if there is enough support to advance a proposal to amend the state Constitution to legalize slot machines and video poker machines within Waikiki.

He said he plans to decide by Monday whether to advance the bill.

"There's several gambling measures out there and, for the sake of discussion, I do think they should move on to their next committees," said Brower (D, Waikiki-Ala Moana). "This measure is very specific, so I'm going to talk to other legislators — get a feel for it."

Only one person submitted testimony on the proposed constitutional amendment. Reg White of Paradise Cruise Ltd. warned that slot machines and video poker booths could have an adverse effect on tourism by keeping visitors indoors and away from other island activities such as beach and boat outings.

"Slot machines and poker are a lot like video games, except even more addicting because they promise monetary rewards," White said. "It takes people and occupies them for long periods of time, which will hurt our optional tour market because then people are not out, spending money, going on tours to see Hawaii and appreciate the things we have to offer."

Other proposals on gambling call for the establishment of a stand-alone casino in Waikiki and on Hawaiian Home Lands, the authorization of shipboard gambling, and a proposal to investigate Hawaii's participation in a multistate lottery such as Powerball.

Such measures have historically faced strong opposition in Hawaii from groups that fear social and law enforcement problems stemming from legalized gambling. Gov. Linda Lingle also had been an opponent of legalized gambling.

During his campaign, Gov. Neil Abercrombie expressed support for a lottery, with proceeds going to education. None of the gambling bills was part of the governor's legislative package.

Sen. Will Espero, who sponsored Senate legislation similar to Brower's constitutional amendment, said lawmakers needed to explore all options in addressing the looming budget shortfall.

"I thought it was worthy of discussion and debate and see what people would think," said Espero (D, Ewa-Honouliuli-Ewa Beach).

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