A state agency that works toward equality for women and girls issued a blistering report Monday outlining the ills associated with casinos, particularly as they relate to the sex trade, marking the latest challenge for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands as it tries to move forward on a contentious proposal to build a casino resort to bring in desperately needed revenue for housing on Hawaiian trust lands.
“Casinos bring more than just revenue. They bring a bachelor party culture,” said Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, during a Monday news conference to discuss her report, “Gambling With Women’s Safety: A Feminist Assessment of Proposed Resort-Casino.”
“We’re all familiar with the slogan ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,’ and what research indicates is when men gather to spend money on leisure and relaxation, including paid sex, it necessitates filling that demand.”
The nine-page report, requested by members of the state House of Representatives, concluded that men who gamble are more prone to purchasing sex, and that a casino would likely increase domestic violence toward women, prostitution and sex trafficking. The report warns that Native Hawaiian women are likely to be at particular risk.
A casino could send the message that “Hawaii is a paradise open for gambling and ‘adult play,’” the report warns.
State Rep. Stacelynn Eli, who is a beneficiary of the land trust and is on its waiting list for a property, called for a halt to the project. She said the casino doesn’t align with DHHL’s “commitment to manage its trust with sound policies and procedures, nor their commitment to work side-by-side with beneficiaries to create and maintain vibrant homestead communities.”
Gambling is illegal in Hawaii, but DHHL officials are seeking a statutory exemption. It’s a tough sell. Gov. David Ige, as well as key lawmakers, have already signaled opposition to the idea, though the measure is likely to get at least a hearing in the Legislature.
The Hawaiian Homes Commission in December narrowly approved the idea of a casino resort on lands set aside for Native Hawaiians in Kapolei. Ige declined to introduce the proposal as part of his administrative package of bills, but legislators introduced another measure that would allow other locations for the casino to be explored.
DHHL Deputy Tyler Iokepa Gomes said in a statement he’s aware of the social ills related to gambling but that he felt it could be responsibly implemented in Hawaii through diverting a portion of revenues to a regulatory commission.
“These resources can fund similar public safety measures and best practices that have already been developed and administered by countries like Japan, Singapore, and New Zealand,” he said in a statement.
DHHL estimates the casino resort could bring in $35 million annually, which officials say is a conservative estimate. That amount would more than double the department’s average annual funding for capital improvement projects.
The revenue would come from a 45% tax on gross gaming revenue — 80% of which would go to DHHL. Another 15% of the tax would be deposited into the state’s general fund, and 5% would go toward a state gaming fund to help mitigate any negative effects from the resort.
The casino idea was hatched after an investigation by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica found that DHHL was failing to meet the overwhelming demand for housing on Hawaiian trust lands, which were set aside for anyone who was at least half Hawaiian. DHHL has developed just 3,300 residential lots statewide since 1995, according to the report, while its wait list for homes ballooned to 23,000. At that pace it would take 182 years to accommodate those on the wait list, many of whom have waited for decades.
The housing situation is most dire on Oahu, the island where half of Hawaiians on the wait list want to live and where there is a major shortage of available land. Just 575 acres remain in the land trust that are suitable for housing. That land could supply less than a third of the wait-listers under the department’s current development model.
Still, the prospect of a steady stream of revenue isn’t winning over critics. Rather than build a casino, the report from the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women suggested the state adequately fund DHHL.