Hawaii considers breaking with tradition as casino talk mounts

Hawaii City

As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. Earlier this year, when it became obvious that COVID-19 was going to cause serious economic shortfalls for governments and businesses alike, the prediction was that gambling might be taken more seriously as a viable option to make up for the losses. There is likely to be a lot of movement in the legal gambling space in 2021, especially in the U.S., and the idea of seeing a casino in Hawaii, long opposed to the concept, is now closer to reality than ever. The push for a major gambling resort isn’t coming from the private sector, either. Hawaii’s Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) is suggesting a casino resort on the island of Oahu.

Hawaii City

The DHHL is concerned about its diminishing pool of funds and it foresees darker days ahead as it looks to figure out how to fill a $6-billion gap that will keep it from providing adequate housing. The agency is responsible, in part, for assisting native Hawaiians with their housing needs and it currently doesn’t have the resources required to continue developing land earmarked for that purpose. The DHHL said in a statement as it hinted about a casino being used to help cover the gap, Given the impact of COVID-19 on our state’s economy, the department is proposing a bold measure that has proven successful for indigenous groups in generating critically needed revenue to improve the lives of their people.”

There are eight states in the U.S. that have no form of commercial or tribal casinos, of which Hawaii is included. It is also one of two – along with Utah – that have zero gambling and the Aloha State doesn’t even offer a lottery. However, the DHHL feels that it might be time for a change and, given the success gambling has had elsewhere around the world, it could be right. In addition, a legal casino might help Hawaii to keep its illegal casinos off the islands. 

The first step in trying to bring a casino to Hawaii is to plant the seed, which the DHHL has done. The next step is to get initial approval for the concept. That will be up to the Hawaiian Homes Commission, which will soon vote on the subject. If it says yes, the proposal then moves on to the next step, approval by the state’s governor, David Ige. Even if it’s approved by the governor, it still has to be approved by Hawaii’s House of Representatives and Senate, both of which are overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats.

There’s undoubtedly going to be a lot of opposition along the way and it won’t be easy to convince a lot of people that allowing a casino is a good idea. The standard arguments always used by gambling foes – casinos lead to drugs and more crime (assertions not based on actual science) – will come up and have to be addressed. However, if Hawaii wants to climb out of its economic hole, gambling is going to be the best ladder.