awmakers are having discussions about the possibility of casino gambling. House lawmakers have become the first to place importance on discussing the issue, even though it appears that the likelihood of the gambling expansion is small.
In the past, gambling lobbyists have thrown millions of dollars at politicians in an effort to bring casinos to one of the world's top tourist destinations. Those attempts, however, fell flat and never amounted to any law changes.
Privately, many lawmakers doubt that gambling has much of a chance, even with the state facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit through June 2011. There appears to be a firewall of opposition in the state Senate and, if a bill were to pass, it would likely fall short of the two-thirds' majorities needed in both chambers to override an almost-certain veto by Governor Linda Lingle. But the fact that gambling bills have cleared initial committee review has given the issue some currency.
Now, the state budget could be a driving force behind a possible law change. The budget is projected to be over us$ 1 billion in the hole by 2011, and some lawmakers believe that the way to help bridge that shortcoming is to add at least one casino in the state.
"I think we should have a public hearing," said Representative Marcus Oshiro, "It's been about ten years since we've had a good public hearing on these issues, in line with the idea that we have to consider all options." Then he added: “Personally, I've never supported gaming. But I think it deserves that public debate and discussion."
O'ahu has been mentioned as a possible location for a single casino. Other ideas being floated around call for casinos on Hawaii home lands. The first step in the process of legalizing casinos occurred when gambling proposals have cleared several committee reviews.
Karamatsu's bill would create a five-member gambling commission within the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs that would be authorized to issue one five-year license for a casino on O'ahu. Initially limited to tourists, lawmakers have amended the bill to allow both tourists and residents who are 21 and over to gamble.
The state would impose a 7 % tax on monthly gross receipts, retaining some of the revenue for the commission's administrative costs and a treatment program for problem gamblers. The remainder of the new tax revenue would go to the state's general fund.
A December 2000 study prepared by Michigan Consultants for lobbyists for the gambling industry estimated that two casinos on O'ahu - in Waikíkí and Ko Olina - would generate us$ 711 million annually, including us$ 309 million from gambling.
The study estimated that us$ 58.5 million of the gambling revenue would come from locals. It predicted that the two casinos would bring in us$ 143 million in new tax revenue each year and create 19,575 jobs.
Assuming that one casino would generate about half the tax revenue annually - us$ 71.5 million - and would take at least one to two years to be up and running, it is clear that gambling alone would not solve the state's budget crisis.