Hawaii Agency Cautions Casino Could Be Sex Trafficking Hub

Posted on: February 3, 2021, 08:11h. 

Last updated on: February 3, 2021, 10:46h.

A controversial effort to bring a casino to Kapolei on the island of Oahu is being condemned by a Hawaii commission that believes the venue will facilitate increased levels of sex trafficking.

Hawaii Casino
Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women. She believes a casino will increase sex trafficking on the island. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

Khara Jabola-Carolus, executive director of the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women, says gaming venues bring “a bachelor party culture” and that a casino in the second-largest city on Oahu would worsen the state’s already bleak forced sex worker trade.

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,” said Jabola-Carolus at a news conference earlier this week.

Her report, “Gambling With Women’s Safety: A Feminist Assessment of Proposed Resort-Casino,” was requested by the Hawaii House of Representatives as part of the chamber’s evaluation of the Kapolei casino proposal.

Democrat House Speaker Scott Saiki recently introduced HB 359 to initiate a debate on the gaming venue proposal. Senate Majority Leader State Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole (D) rolled out companion legislation in the upper legislative chamber.

Hawaii Casino, Sex Trafficking: Toxic Mix, Says Commission

Hawaii is one of the most stridently anti-gaming states in the country. The Aloha State and Utah are the only two states with no forms of legal, regulated gambling. No bingo parlors, no casinos, no racetracks. Not even a state lottery.

However, the island is staring down massive budget shortfalls stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL), which proposed the casino last December, believes a gaming venue will generate much- needed revenue. DHHL says it needs to raise $6 billion to adequately serve the 28,000 Native Hawaiians on its waitlist for housing. At its current pace, it will take DHHL a century to provide housing to its clients, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

A conservative estimate is that if the casino is approved, it would generate $35 million in annual revenue. Jabola-Carolus and the Commission on the Status of Women aren’t moved by that forecast.

Citing the Avery Center, the Commission’s report notes that in 2019, 48,086 ads posted for commercial sex in Honolulu, with the same research finding 18,375 victims of sex trafficking in Hawaii’s capital city. Based on the average number of acts performed per day, those victims were forced to provide nearly 24 million sexual services in a year.

The Commission notes that while victims of sex trafficking are found on five Hawaiian islands, the largest percentage (45.4 percent) reside in Oahu, and nearly two-thirds are Native Hawaiians.

Odds Still Long for Casino

Last December, DHHL’s proposal was narrowly approved by the Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC). That doesn’t mean a gaming venue will come to life. Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) rapidly spoke out against the idea, and several other politicians say they will attempt to block the casino, noting keeping Hawaii gaming-free is a bipartisan issue.

The commission points out that Hawaii already has a sex trade problem, owing to its status as a military and tourist hub. The report indicates one in nine men in Oahu are potential buyers of sex from online ads, and a third of them are either members of the military or tourists.

Previous reports detail links between gaming and the sex trade. For example, a 2010 study conducted by the Justice Department and the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) said casino patrons were 17 percent more likely to have paid for sex in the past year than counterparts that didn’t go to gaming venues.

The illicit behavior isn’t confined to commercial gaming venues. According to the commission, some Native American tribes report upticks in sex trafficking in areas where there are casinos.