Hawaiian Home Lands Chair Supports Gambling Legalization

Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Chair Tyler Gomes supports legalizing gambling, says it is the best way to fill budget gaps.

On Monday, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) Chair Tyler Gomes said that the proposed bill to legalize gambling was an opportunity to discuss the shortfalls faced by the department.

Hawaii is one of only two US states that do not recognize any form of legal gambling, the other being Utah. If passed, the legalization bill would see the establishment of a state gambling commission. The bill also includes plans to build a casino on a DHHL parcel in Kapolei, Oahu.

During a Honolulu Star-Advertiser Facebook Live stream, Mr. Gomes said that the casino resort would provide a much-needed cash injection for the DHHL. He gave a conservative estimate of around $30 million annually.

The revenue would go a long way to filling the gaps in the DHHL’s finances. More importantly, it would speed up the very slow pace of house construction for the native population. According to Mr. Gomes, some people have been waiting over 30 years.

Mr. Gomes expects the problem to worsen significantly over time if not addressed. He warned that if the DHHL continues operating at its current pace, it would take approximately 182 years to address the waiting list. He noted that this calculation does not factor in any new applicants.

The DHHL would need around $140 million per year to address the demand and requests within a reasonable timeframe, Mr. Gomes said. He added that the $20 million it receives annually falls dramatically short of this goal.

Opposition on All Fronts

Proponents of the bill will be fighting an uphill battle at every turn. Firstly, the bill is unlikely to be introduced in the 2021 legislative session, which begins on 20 January. Governor David Ige has come out in opposition to the idea and will likely not accept the bill.

Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole recently said that he would introduce the bill if Mr. Ige doesn’t, but this does not resolve the problem. Even if the bill is introduced, passing it would still be a challenge due to opposition from Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki.

The bill also faces opposition from Sen. and House minority leader Kurt Fevella and from Sen. Mike Gabbard, who represents the Oahu district – the district that is supposed to house the casino.

The public is also opposed to the bill. This is reflected by the overwhelmingly negative comments under Mr. Gomes’ livestream. Most of the public’s criticism revolves around the poor timing and execution of the bill, the DHHL’s lack of transparency and the potential negative impact of gambling on the community.

Mr. Gomes countered the final point, at least. According to him, gambling legalization does not lead to an increase in crime and substance abuse. Instead, the real-life examples in Louisiana, Pittsburgh and Massachusetts show a drop in local crime.

He also stressed that the bill is simply the best currently-available solution to the DHHL’s budget problems.

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