Hawaii Isn’t Missing Out on Legalized Gambling, We Have Aloha for Our Communities Not to Bring Gambling Home

Another gaming bill is before this Hawaii State Legislature. This latest one called the Sports Gaming Bill aims to make sports betting (increasingly popular form of gambling) and poker (arguably the most popular card game) to be legally available on Oahu.

Clearly this bill is a test pilot for potentially expanding legal gambling in Hawaii. It was designed to evaluate what parts of gaming would be successful as a business and to what degree and types of gambling Hawaii residents would allow.

We know it’s a pilot because if approved it will only be available on Oahu. The Sports Gaming part, which would only take bets on-site, is a limited version testing the massive online sports gaming industry. The poker card feature is a limited exposure of card gambling but ultimately a test pilot for future card gambling to include other card games, then table games, and potentially a mini-full casino.

Make no mistake this bill by its design is a precursor to have multiple forms of gambling in the state. Hawaii residents shouldn’t be fooled by the low scale, limited to only two forms of gaming.

Hawaii residents should know what’s at stake (for better or worse). And what’s at stake – a small opening of the door to legal gambling is still an opening and could be difficult to close once that door is open.

It can be argued that these two types of gaming are not meant to attract the casual gambler, but those who are quite serious and passionate about gambling. We’re not talking bingo here. Or even lotto. Poker and sports betting have some of the most active and passionate gamers. The selection of these two types of gaming is very niche. Why these two types of gaming matters? Because we all know that those most prone to gambling addiction are not casual gamblers.

This bill is also carefully crafted not to be as aggressive as proposing a casino which has failed to get approval in the past, but not as subtle an introduction to gambling as per say bingo or a lottery.

There are some unfair and misleading arguments being made in support of this bill. First, one argument made is that passing this bill would cut down on the already illegal gaming businesses that exist. There’s no evidence of that happening in states with legal gambling. It’s more likely that the opposite occurs.

Supporters of the bill also do a lot of public relations about how additional streams of taxes from legalizing gaming would help support affordable housing, education and social services. There is mentioning of how some of these taxes would also go toward addiction programs and police enforcement to crack down on illegal gambling.

But what we’re not hearing much about are actual numbers and projections of how much the state would need to support in programs that would arise from all the negative effects of gambling. It could very well end up that there’s not enough in added tax collection from legalizing gambling that would be worth the money to support the social harms associated with gambling. It could be a net-zero game when all the factors are considered, and hard numbers are analyzed.

But perhaps the most misleading argument supporters of legal gambling in Hawaii is that the money from local Hawaii residents being poured into Las Vegas would be channeled to legal gaming in Hawaii.

This could be marginally true, but everyone knows the Las Vegas experience for Hawaii residents is not just about gambling, but about shows, entertainment, dining, shopping, traveling away and getting off the islands, as well as using Las Vegas as a starting point to visit California and other parts of the west in proximity of it. The gambling experience in Las Vegas also is about awe and being in a casino with an electric, vibrant atmosphere.

Hawaii residents will still be drawn to Vegas and anticipating that a large piece of that revenue pie spent by Hawaii locals there would go to legal gambling in Hawaii is assuming too much.

It’s hard to believe that the opportunity to travel to Las Vegas, to visit many of our families who live there and, in its proximity, as well as the opportunity to gamble in a place of luxury away from home (remember vacations are meant to experience another place besides where we live) with the full array of many types of gaming options would be substituted by some neighborhood joint in Hawaii with limited gaming.

That’s just not going to happen. Again, show us projected real numbers instead of simply blurting out how much money Hawaii residents are spending in Las Vegas.

Lastly, arguing the fact that Hawaii remains as the only state to outlaw all forms of legal gambling shouldn’t be interpreted as we are the state that’s oddly being left behind and that we’re missing out on the benefits the rest of the nation are enjoying.      

It could also be true that Hawaii residents just know better that to gamble away from home is best done away from home to avoid the traps of addiction or other social ills that gambling inflicts onto other communities.

Hawaii is a special place, isolated that we can control much of our destiny arguably better than other communities on the mainland. Take the COVID-19 crisis as an example of careful and wise management.

It’s arguable that Hawaii, with our tradition of aloha, perhaps are more cognizant and compassionate of some of our neighbors’ unfortunate life situations. We are very caring of our communities and neighbors. And when we vote down legislation that we perceive could be harmful to our neighbors and communities, it could very well be that we are exceptional, even as we remain as the one state that bans all forms of commercial gambling.

Hawaii is known to the world as paradise. There are countless of other places in the world also with natural beauty like Hawaii. But we have this distinction of paradise because of our aloha and our caring people. We know that we can be a world-class tourism city without having to resort to gaming. We see the social ills that can come with gambling in our many visits to the mainland. And our rejection of legalizing gambling of all forms, even as the single state remaining to do so, is actually an example of the aloha spirit and how much we care enough for our neighbors and communities.

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