Beautiful resorts and cruises, beaches, hikes, a deep and fascinating state history – Hawaii seems to have it all. And it’s a short flight from just about anywhere in California. But what Hawaii doesn’t have, surprisingly, is legalized gambling.
Not only does Hawaii not allow legalized sports betting, but they offer no legalized gambling at all. Most notably, not a single land-based casino exists on any of the islands.
In a country where 48 states have some form of legalized gambling, Hawaiian gambling laws are some of the most strict. They prohibit the risking of money upon the outcome of any contest. That includes sports and horse racing, as well as all casino and table games.
Hawaii doesn’t even have a state lottery. In fact, the state considers any semblance of gambling advertising illegal.
However, as other states continue to reap from the tax benefits of legalized gambling, Hawaii may be looking to get in on the action.
What is House Bill 1962?
HB 1962 is one of four legalized gambling bills proposed by Hawaiian legislators this session. The bill seeks to fund a study by the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. The goal is to understand the impact legalized casino gaming would have on the state.
Hawaii’s hot tourism market would make casino gaming an instant hit. Consequently, the state is starting to consider legalizing it.
In addition, hundreds of thousands of Hawaiians travel outside of Hawaii to gamble elsewhere, leaving Hawaii with nothing to show for it in return.
“Hawaii residents regularly generate hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of tax revenue dollars for other states while traveling to gamble, and in return, Hawaii receives little to no benefit,” HB 1962 writers say.
According to the bill, Hawaiian residents take over 500,000 trips to Las Vegas every year. Presumably, the main purpose of those trips is to gamble.
HB 1962 looks to bring that money back home. By allowing residents to gamble in-state rather than travel to the mainland, Hawaii hopes to keep gaming revenues and help Hawaiians.
Possible Benefits of Legalized Casino Gaming
Well, money. That’s obvious – but the real question is, how much money?
There are only 1.4 million people that live in Hawaii. Approximately 1.2 million of them are over 21, the legal minimum age to gamble in most states. While that does not present a massive number, tourism numbers are where the real money could come in.
The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) in Hawaii reported almost 4.4 million tourists visited the country through August of last year. Considering this was during a pandemic high point, that’s a respectably high number.
In 2019, Hawaii saw 7.09 million visitors, who spent a total of $12.06 billion during just the first six months of the year.
Opposers to Hawaii legalizing gambling fear negative impacts
While this bill is merely the first step to legalized betting, it is already hitting up against strong opposition. It ties back to the topic of sex trafficking and poverty.
Hawaii has been dealing with sex-trafficking crises over the past several years. A study done by Arizona State University brought things to light on the topic just a few years ago.
The study interviewed almost 400 people involved in a Child and Family service program. The study found over one-quarter (27%) of participants were sex-trafficking victims at some point in their lives.
According to the same study, the biggest cause of sex trafficking is poverty. Many people fear the introduction of some casinos could, in turn, increase the already high amount of sex trafficking in the state.
At a February 9 press conference, Rep. Jeanne Kapela summarized the concerns:
“Hawaii is home to over 2,500 unique and individual sex trafficking survivors. These are women and children who are victimized and trafficked here on our shores, and bringing in gambling will only make that number rise. If we care about women and children, then we need to ensure that gambling doesn’t happen on our shores.”
The bill passed the House, with amendments, on February 9. It appropriates $500,000 for the study, to be completed in FY 2023.