Despite it being common knowledge in Hawaii that its citizens love to spend their vacations and dollars in Las Vegas, gambling has never been legal and regulated in the Pacific island state.
Senator Will Espero has now pointed out that the state may be losing millions of dollars in tax revenue to offshore companies and unregulated online casinos that are effectively funneling money out of Hawaii’s economy. This is his basis for introducing a 28-page bill, SB 677, that proposes Hawaii legalize and regulate land-based and online gambling on a scale that would funnel the majority of that money back into the state.
The opposition stands firm and the odds of the bill being passed in the Hawaiian Congress in not likely; But where there is a will there may be a way.
The legislation appears to lay out a plan that would model itself after the one put into place by the state of Delaware. Three members appointed by the Governor, two by the president of the Senate, and two by the Speaker of the House would serve on a 7-person board that would function as the head of the Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation. This board would be in charge of choosing a gaming provider and creating the regulations and policies that would govern online gambling within the state. As described in the bill:
“The purpose of this Act is to create a body politic, known as the Hawaii internet lottery and gaming corporation, authorized to offer a regulated, secure, and responsible framework for the conduct of internet wagering and gaming in Hawaii that will provide consumer protections and capture additional revenues for the benefit of the State that are currently flowing offshore to unregulated internet gambling operations.”
The endeavor of creating a Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation would be quite an undertaking given that Hawaii has never regulated any form of gambling, not even a state lottery. Opponents argue that this is for good reason, and that if gambling were more readily available to the population, it would cause systemic problem gambling. While the bill argues that the problem already exists, there is no way for the state to fund problem gambling programs because the money is flowing to companies out of state:
“…Tens of thousands of Hawaii residents are estimated to participate in illegal online gambling on unregulated internet web sites. These gambling web sites are operated by illegal offshore operators not subject to regulation or taxation in the United States. Questions often arise about the honesty and the fairness of the games offered to Hawaii residents, but neither federal nor Hawaii laws currently provide any consumer protections for Hawaii residents who play on these web sites. Moreover, tens of millions of dollars in 2017 revenues generated from online gambling are being realized by offshore operators serving Hawaii residents, but no benefits are provided to the State.”
The bill also hopes to utilize regulated gambling as a tool within its tourism industry. Authorizing free-play sweepstakes that feature Hawaii-related prizes and vacation packages that would be available to residents outside of Hawaii, and also promoting the bi-annual hosting of major tournaments and the like via interstate partnerships with places like Nevada, would likely help generate participation. It may be far from a sure thing, but the logic doesn’t seem to reside to far over the rainbow. Mahalo.