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Editorial | Island Voices

All things considered, a single casino in Waikiki is worth a try

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For almost 40 years, while I was actively involved in Hawaii’s political and business arena, I felt that open casino gambling in the islands would be a detriment to our tourism industry. Today, however, given Hawaii’s current economic situation and the changing worldwide tourism industry, I now believe the concept of limited gambling in Hawaii should be seriously considered.

Before proceeding with my argument I should make it clear that I have no financial arrangement or business relationship with potential casino operators, and would not benefit personally if a casino were to open in Hawaii. I simply believe that limited casino gambling would improve Hawaii’s tourism package and competitiveness and have a positive impact on the state’s finances for years to come. Recent polls of Chinese, Japanese and Korean visitors show that there is both strong desire for casino gambling in Hawaii and a feeling that Waikiki is lacking nighttime entertainment. In fact, Waikiki no longer has any movie theaters and very few live performances when compared to 20 years ago. Tourists now spend much of their evening hours walking the streets of Waikiki just window shopping.

I partially agree with a recent commentary in the Star-Advertiser regarding gambling and our local culture. We should not strive to be another gambling destination like Las Vegas or Macau, with multiple casino licenses and the placement of slot machines at the airport or other locales. I think there’s little chance that visitors will come to Hawaii just to go gambling. Rather, tourists will always be attracted to Hawaii for our culture, weather and scenery. But, given that, visitors definitely want more evening entertainment.

I am opposed to a Hawaii lottery, as that would not create additional jobs, or bring additional revenue to the state. It would be little more than a new tax, primarily targeting the poorer elements of our society. Even shipboard gambling, as practiced in such locales as Florida, would be difficult to implement and manage in Hawaii because of the need for additional docking infrastructure and the sometimes rough condition of nearby waters.

What I favor is a bill the Legislature recently considered that would allow for a single casino in Waikiki with a 10-year license to operate.

If passed, it would allow the opening of just one, stand-alone casino in Waikiki. No one hotel or hotel chain would have an advantage over its competitors.There is no provision for additional gambling facilities or locations for at least the 10-year period.

To assure that future legislatures do not get carried away with gambling and approve multiple casino licenses in Waikiki, I would encourage this year’s Legislature to amend the current bill, locking in a higher tax rate for the state, and making it contractual with the single operator during the 10-year period.

The proposal also creates the criteria for the creation and operation of a state gaming commission, sets aside funding for a compulsive gamblers program, bans persons under the age of 21 from entering the casino and assures that the state receives guaranteed monthly income via a tax on gross receipts by the facility. Based on what other states receive from casino receipts, this single facility could generate up to $100 million a year for Hawaii. This would be in addition to an estimated $29 million in personal income tax revenue that would be generated by the more than 1,000 new jobs created by the casino.

Some local residents would visit the casino, but, with the planned provisions in place, our social problems should be at a minimum.

Even so, at the end of 10 years we could evaluate whether a single casino has been a positive addition to our society. If not, then it could be closed and the question of legalized gambling in Hawaii will have been finally answered.

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