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Hawaii’s Latest Gaming Proposal Crumbles in Legislature

An effort to bring legal gambling to Hawaii has failed again in the state legislature. A long-shot bill died in a Senate committee that eventually may have permitted gaming in part of Oahu.

Kapolei, seen here, is located on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. It is the island’s second-largest city. It was floated as a possible location for a gaming property, but so far, enabling legislation has failed to get adequate support. (Image: Paradise Helicopters)

On Thursday, the Senate’s Hawaiian Affairs Committee held a scheduled hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 1321. But after less than two minutes, the hearing stopped, and state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro (D- Waianae), chairwoman of the committee, deferred the bill “indefinitely,” according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper.

The committee did not take a vote. Nor did the committee discuss the proposal, the report adds.

In its latest draft, SB 1321 was amended so the Hawaii Home Lands Commission (HHLC) would have gotten until Dec. 31, 2026, to decide whether to move forward on any kind of gambling on Home Lands property west of Ko Olina, which is located on Oahu, the report said.

Among the possible gaming options were bingo, casinos, horse racing, or a lottery, the report adds.

In December, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) proposed building a casino in Kapolei on the island of Oahu. It is the island’s second-largest city.

Gaming Revenue Way to Pay for Native Hawaiian Homes

If state officials had approved opening a casino resort on Oahu, it may have led to millions of dollars in revenue. That money could have been used to cover some of the costs associated with getting Hawaiians onto ancestral lands, Yahoo News reported.

Officials estimate the state requires about $6 billion to meet the needs of the more than 28,000 native Hawaiians who are waiting for land and homes. Some of these “beneficiaries” have been waiting for decades, Yahoo News said.

The HHLC also narrowly voted 5-to-4 in December to forward a gaming proposal to the legislature. A more recent proposal would have forced the HHLC to only move the gaming option forward if six of the commissioners voted in favor of the concept, Yahoo News said.

Following the Senate bill’s demise on Thursday, Hawaiian Homes Commission Chairman William J. Aila, Jr. said there had been a “glimmer of hope,” given the proposed amendments that would have allowed the “Commission and our beneficiaries the authority to create a gaming operation … to create a consistent source of infrastructure funding.

“Today, that flicker died,” Aila added in a statement. “Funding is the barrier between DHHL’s raw landholdings becoming developed lots suitable for homesteading.”

COVID Makes Financial Picture Darker in Hawaii

The state’s financial picture worsened over the past year, thanks to the economic downturn associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

But despite the shortfalls, Hawaii has seen continuing opposition to commercial or tribal gaming properties. The state does not even have a lottery.

“We have heard that gaming is a proposal much of our community does not welcome,” William Aila said. “But a consistent funding source for infrastructure to develop homestead lots is still a puzzle that needs to be solved.”

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