Plans to build a casino in Hawaii passed its initial hurdle as the Hawaiian Homes Commission voted 5-4 in favor of moving forward with a plan to build a casino resort in Kapolei, a city west of Honolulu on the island of Oahu.
If the casino is built, the tax revenue stemming from it would be used to fund Native Hawaiian programs.
Deputy Department of Hawaiian Homelands Chair Tyler Lokepa Gomes estimates that the property would generate $30 million in annual tax revenue. That money would be used to help build homes for nearly 29,000 native Hawaiians, according to a report from Hawaii News Now.
“This bill is the single greatest opportunity that we have to put ourselves in the dominion of exercising economic self-sufficiency,” Gomes told the newspaper.
The Commission’s approval sends the bill to the Legislature. If it is approved by both the state Attorney General’s Office and Gov. David Ige, it will move forward. If not, the bill will need legislative sponsors and move forward through the legislature.
Despite an overwhelming Democratic majority in the state’s legislature, Hawaii and ultra-conservative Utah are the only two states in the country that doesn’t offer any form of legalized gambling. There isn’t even a state lottery in either state.
In order to break ground on the casino, the state legislature would need to change the language of current state laws to allow gambling.
The casino bill could be the catalyst to change those laws, but given the history of gambling in the state, the bill passing is anything but certain. During the meeting where the Commission passed it, there was a small protest outside the building with dozens of people opposing the proposed casino.
There was some interest in legalizing online gambling in early 2017, but that initiative failed in the legislature. Later that same year it voted to beef up its enforcement of existing laws that outlawed poker.