BY JIM DOOLEY – A bill that would have given tax breaks to parents buying back-to-school supplies for their children has been gutted and replaced with language allowing internet poker games and poker tournaments in Hawaii.

Rep. Angus McKelvey

Representative Angus McKelvey, D-10th (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Maalaea, Kihei, North Kihei), said revenue raised by the poker games could pay for the school supplies tax breaks and other worthy programs.

The measure would permit “peer-to-peer internet gaming” involving “human players competing against other players from around the world in a virtual gaming room that is hosted by the licensed site.”

The program would be “unlike traditional internet gaming in which players play against a computerized house similar to video poker machines in destinations like Las Vegas.”

Companies interested in running the program here would have to bid at least $100 million for state licenses and would have to pay 20 per cent of total wagers to the state.

The bill, SB755, was passed during a joint hearing today of the Economic Revitalization and Business Committee and the Labor and Public Employment Committee.

Republican minority members of the committees voted against it. Democratic members were in favor, although some expressed reservations.

During discussion on the measure, Rep. Tom Brower, D-w3rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana) asserted that online gambling is legal now in Hawaii.

“You can gamble in Hawaii today online. So there is gambling legally in Hawaii online,” Brower said.

Rep. Barbara Marumoto, R-19th (Waialae Iki, Kalani Valley, Waialae Nui, Diamond Head, Kahala), then said, “Gambling is illegal in Hawaii.”

Brower responded, “People are doing it. There’s not a law against it, is my understanding. There is not a law that says you may not gamble online in Hawaii.”

Rep. George Fontaine, R-11th (Makena, Wailea, Kihei), a retired Maui police officer, set the record straight.

“Online gambling is illegal, period. Whether you’re doing it from your living room on a computer to some server in the Bahamas, it’s still illegal, regardless of whether people do it or not,” Fontaine said.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-50th (Kailua, Kaneohe), wondered why testimony received on the revised bill was uniformly favorable.

“Its very strange that we don’t have opposing testimony from groups that have been so vigilant against keeping gambling out of Hawaii,” Thielen said. “I believe they’ve been caught by surprise.”

McKelvey said the bill would be forwarded to the House Finance Committee where opponents could testify against it.

“I’m sure opponents will be more than vociferous about this,” McKelvey said.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com