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Waikiki casino, wagering tax proposal likely dead this year

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A proposed stand-alone casino in Waikiki has stalled in a state House committee.

House Bill 2788 would also create the Hawaii Gaming Commission and impose a 15 percent tax on the casino’s gross receipts.

Tourism Committee Chairman Tom Brower said he wanted to take up the measure to keep the conversation open.

“Is gambling evil, or do people lack self-control?” Brower asked at a Monday hearing. “Personally, I don’t think gambling can make people anything that they aren’t already.”

The committee’s decision to defer the bill means the casino proposal is likely dead for the session, although it can be brought up again at any time before the Legislature adjourns May 3.

Most of the testimony submitted at the hearing opposed gambling, including that from Honolulu’s mayor and police department, as well as the Hawaii Tourism Authority. The state departments of Budget and Finance and Business, Economic Development and Tourism submitted testimony without taking a position.

Most opponents pointed to problems associated with legalized gambling, such as increased crime, unemployment, bankruptcy and family dysfunction.

However, about two dozen supporters arrived at the hearing carrying signs and wearing blue t-shirts that read “Casino Now!”

The bill to allow a 20-year license for a single casino was introduced by Speaker Emeritus Rep. Joe Souki. The measure defines a casino as having at least 1,500 slot machines.

Brower said he has done extensive research on the issue and found that 3 percent to 6 percent of gamblers would be expected to have problems with gambling addiction.

“Gambling could be a new industry for Hawaii to increase tax revenue and lessen future tax increases on residents,” he said in a news release announcing the hearing. “Other world cities show that if gambling is done right, residents benefit; if done wrong, some may suffer.”

Gaming bills are regularly introduced at the Legislature, but Hawaii remains one of two states with no legalized form of gambling. Utah, the only other state with no gaming, has five neighboring states with 280 casinos within driving distance, noted lobbyist John Radcliffe.

Radcliffe, one of legalized gambling’s most vocal proponents, told lawmakers he has been bringing economic data to the Legislature for 12 years. This data indicate that 69 percent of Hawaii residents travel to Las Vegas, but 42 percent would stay home and gamble here if it were an option.

“We export gamblers at no benefit to our state, and we export their $1 billion in after-tax dollars, too,” Radcliffe said.

Grace Furukawa from the League of Women Voters urged committee members to table the idea.

“Slot machines alone are the crack cocaine of gambling and promise the loss of one job from small business a year,” Furukawa said, referring to statistics from the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.


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