The Issue of Legalizing Gambling in Hawaii
Gambling foes, friends converge on Capitol
Pacific Business News
For pro-gambling lawmakers, getting legislative approval this session for a referendum on the issue may be an uphill battle.
The idea of a referendum to decide whether to legalize gambling gained currency after Senate President Robert Bunda , D-Wahiawa-Waialua-Sunset Beach, backed Gov. Cayetano's proposal in his opening-day address to the Legislature. A couple of bills in the Senate and the House seek an advisory referendum on gambling.
Initial signs seem to indicate the fate of gambling bills. Senate Bill 2029, calling for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the legalization of gambling, already has a majority of 14 supporting signatures from the 25-member Senate. Further, an informal e-mail poll of the Republican representatives conducted by Pacific Business News showed that all nine respondents were opposed to a referendum.
Outside of the state Capitol, a growing faction of local businesses have begun to voice their opposition to gambling.
Leading the campaign are Victoria Ward President and CEO Mitch D'Olier and Group 70 International Inc. Chairman and CEO Francis Oda. The two have held informational meetings touting their cause and trying to get more businesses to oppose having casinos in the state.
A referendum, opponents contend, will become an issue of which side has deeper pockets to pay for the air time and publicity.
"The idea of a referendum becomes a money issue, as people who have most money for a publicity campaign will succeed," said Oda, who is also chairman of the grass-roots group Hawaii Family Forum.
"If it comes to a referendum, the gambling industry will spend a tremendous amount of money to take their message to the public," said Dorothy Bobilin, president of Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. "There's no way we, a grass-roots organization, can level the playing field and the spend same amount of money."
The money issue takes on added significance, given the current economic climate, as the gambling industry promises to add thousands of jobs and millions of dollars to the state economy.
Sun International Hotels Ltd., one of the biggest resort-casino operators in the world, says it would build a $1 billion, 1,000-room resort at Ko Olina in two years and pay the state $100 million upfront for a casino license, which would last for 10 years.
"There are number of legislators who see the economics of it," said Jim Boersema, spokesman for Sun International. "And if the issue comes to a referendum, it will definitely pass. There's no question about it, as long as the issues are properly worded."
Some observers argue the economic impact is open to discussion and, in the long term, they say gambling can only harm the state.
David McClain, dean of University of Hawaii's College of Business Administration, said research shows the costs of bringing in gambling to the state will outweigh any short-term benefits.
Referring to a "fairly authoritative study that properly measures benefits and costs of gambling," McClain states that costs outweigh benefits two to one, even when comparing minimum costs to maximum benefits. And when maximum cost is weighed against minimum benefit, the ratio tilts to six to one, costs outweighing benefits.
Hawaii, Utah alone in gambling ban
Date entered: 12/06/2003
And then there were two. Hawai`i and Utah are now the only states without any form of legalized gambling, after Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen today signed that state's lottery fund into reality.
Earlier this year, Sens. Cal Kawamoto, Willie Espero and Robert Bunda introduced Senate Bill 83, which proposed a public referendum on whether Hawai`i should have legalized gambling, but it died in committee. A KITV/Star-Bulletin poll last year found residents split on the issue, but gambling in Hawai`i is staunchly opposed by Gov. Linda Lingle and Hawaii's senior senator, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.
The referendum, which would not have been binding, would have also polled residents on what forms of gambling they supported: pari-mutual racing, a state lottery, shipboard gaming, and casino gaming.
According to the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling (NCALG), pro-gambling organizations had invested more than $200,000 in the hopes of advancing Hawai`i legislation last year.
Gambling a bad investment for Hawaii's families.