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Hawaii News

Home Lands gambling bill debate pushed to Thursday

A key Senate committee postponed decision-making until Thursday on whether to allow a controversial gambling bill that would allow the possibility for generating revenue for the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands through some form of legalized gaming — and break Hawaii’s prohibition on any form of legal gambling.

The original version of Senate Bill 1321, which would allow DHHL to develop Hawaii’s first casino resort, was amended to give the Hawaiian Homes Commission five years to figure out whether it wanted to permit any form of gambling — whether in the form of a casino, lottery, bingo or even horse racing — in order to help clear the backlog of more than 28,000 beneficiaries who have been waiting sometimes decades for homes and land.

The House Committee on Economic Development earlier deferred the original House version, effectively killing the DHHL casino resort concept in the House.

In the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Tuesday, the Senate’s amended version of SB 1321 faced deep opposition from at least two of its five members and possibly three, prompting Chairwoman Maile Shimabukuro to defer it until 1 p.m. Thursday.

Committee member and state Sen. Laura Acasio (D, Hilo) said, “This measure is egregiously divisive. … Settler culture seems to love to watch Hawaiians fight against Hawaiians, and this measure, in my experience with constituents and those writing in, is exactly that — adding to more deep historical trauma, generational cultural trauma.”

Fellow Hawaiian Affairs Committee member and state Sen. Kurt Fevella, Senate Republican minority leader and minority floor leader, helped generate a petition opposed to SB 1321 that was signed by 15,600 people.

Fevella said Tuesday that he plans to vote against the bill, which he said is causing “division.”

Fevella, who represents Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point, said the Hawaiian Affairs Committee is “kicking the can down the road” while opponents have “spoken loudly.”

“It’s only getting louder, the voice,” Fevella said.

The question of whether to allow the Home Lands Commission to have five years to consider approving any form of gambling on DHHL land — by a so-called supermajority vote of six of nine members — comes during the state’s worst financial crisis, triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the current level of state funding for DHHL is estimated to take another century to clear DHHL’s backlog of more than 28,000 beneficiaries.

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