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Lawmakers fold; poker bill fails to advance

By Mark Niesse

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 6:51 p.m. HST, Apr 11, 2011


Hawaii has discarded the idea of legalizing both online and live poker in the islands.

Legislation that would brought poker to Hawaii didn't get a public hearing before a Friday deadline for bills to advance, killing it for the year. Opponents of the measure said it would have opened the door to gambling in a state that otherwise prohibits it.

"Legalized gambling would introduce an undesirable element to our islands, and would have a highly detrimental effect on the tourist industry," Dianne Kay, president for the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, said Monday.

Hawaii and Utah are the only two states without any form of legalized gambling.

The poker measure would have exempted the game from state laws banning gambling by defining it as a game of skill rather than chance. 

Only Texas Hold 'em and Omaha varieties of poker would have been permitted. Games played against a computer or casino, such as video poker, wouldn't have been allowed.

"For the silent working majority of Hawaii, this offered revenue to the state without the social ills of other types of gaming, and it was a way to avoid nasty tax increases," said Rep. Angus McKelvey, D-Olowalu-Kapalua, chairman for the House Economic Revitalization & Business Committee.

The bill passed the Economic Revitalization & Business Committee and the Judiciary Committee last month, but it didn't get a hearing in the House Finance Committee. 

There wasn't enough public interest in the bill to merit additional consideration, said Finance Committee Chairman Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa.

McKelvey envisioned holding televised tournaments like the World Series of Poker in Hawaii, which he said would promote tourism by showcasing the islands. Tournament fees would have brought money into the state as it's facing deep projected deficits over the next two years.

The bill also would have charged potential Internet poker sites at least $100 million each to locate their servers in Hawaii. 

All Internet poker sites are currently located outside of the country, although they draw large numbers of players from the United States. 

Legislation to tax and regulate poker through the federal government and other states haven't passed.





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