Hawaii Governor Ige Quickly Objects to Kapolei Casino Plan

Posted on: December 29, 2020, 12:46h. 

Last updated on: December 29, 2020, 01:00h.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) is already speaking out against a proposed casino in Kapolei, the second-largest city on the island of Oahu.

Kapolei Casino
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D). He’s already opposed to the Kapolei casino idea. (Image: Politico)

Though not surprising, the governor’s opposition to the idea comes just days after the Hawaiian Homes Commission (HHC) narrowly approved a plan by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL). That would bring a gaming venue to DHHL property reserved for commercial use. Last week, HHC voted in favor of the pitch by a 5-4 margin.

Ige, the Aloha State’s eighth governor, said in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Spotlight Hawaii program that the risk/reward profile of a casino in the famously anti-gambling state skews toward the former.

The benefits (of a casino) would not exceed the social costs of gambling,” said Ige. “It does not provide economic value to our community.”

DHHL proposed the integrated resort because the agency is facing a cash shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic and needs to raise $6 billion to provide housing assistance to the more than 28,000 Native Hawaiians it serves.

Long Odds All Along

Ige’s objection to the Kapolei casino plan was made in a media interview, so it’s not official. Following last week’s HHC vote, the proposal will be included in the governor’s legislative packet for 2021. From there, it appears all but certain he will officially turn back the idea.

The plan always faced long odds because of Hawaii’s long held anti-gambling stance. The state is one of just eight without a commercial or tribal casino, and is one of just two — Utah is the other — without a lottery.

Underscoring Ige’s opposition to casino gaming in his home state is that he has the luxury of moving the DHHL plan forward without political repercussion, but opted not to cash in that chip. He’s halfway through his second term, and will be termed out of Hawaii’s highest elected office following the 2022 midterm elections.

Prudent Move

While it’s not immediately clear if Ige is eyeing another office, perhaps one of Hawaii’s two US senate seats in the future, opposing the Kapolei casino plan is likely the smart move.

Soon after DHHL made clear it was moving forward with the proposal, multiple state senators voiced opposition. Had the governor signed off on the idea, the next step would be for the state legislature to debate the idea, and it almost certainly would have died on the floor of either the assembly or senate. One state senator went so far as to say that if the integrated resort plan made its way to his chamber, he’d introduce legislation to block it.

Hawaii is a heavily Democratic state, with that state controlling both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. But opposition to gambling is a bipartisan issue there.