BY JIM DOOLEY – A bill to permit casino gambling in Waikiki has stalled at the state Legislature.
The House Tourism Committee tabled the measure, HB 2788, following two hours of testimony, most of it from opponents dedicated to keeping Hawaii one of only two states in the country without legalized gambling.
Pro-gaming witness Tom Shields said he represents a Detroit-based casino company “that would like to invest a couple of hundred million dollars into your state coffers to build a new casino here in Hawaii.”
Shields’ company, Market Resources Group of Michigan, has been touting legalized gambling here for more than a decade on behalf of owners of the MotorCity Casino in Detroit.
Assisting him in that effort has been Hawaii-based lobbyist John Radcliffe, who again urged the Tourism Committee to pass the measure to grow the local economy and help reduce longstanding, multi-billion dollar deficits in the pension and health care programs for active and retired government workers.
But opponent after opponent, ranging from Honolulu police to the Hawaii Tourism Authority to numerous churches and faith-based organizations, spoke against the bill.
“Slot machines are the crack cocaine of gambling,” said Grace Furukawa of the League of Women Voters.
Committee chairman Tom Brower, D-23rd (Waikiki, Ala Moana), said he has studied the issue of legalized gambling.
“I believe the people of Hawaii spend in the neighborhood of $200 million annually to gamble in Las Vegas,” Brower said.
“The idea is for them to spend that money here because they’re going to spend it anyway,” he continued.
But opponents repeated arguments that professional gaming would damage the image of Waikiki, promote crime and corruption and create gambling addicts.
“Is gambling evil or is people’s loss of self control the issue?” Brower asked.
Other gambling bills remain alive at the Legislature and the casino measure could be revived at a later date.
Utah is the only other state that has not approved legalized gambling.