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The chances of Hawaii waiving its ban on legalized gambling so a resort casino can bring more than 28,000 native Hawaiians to their ancestral lands diminished significantly on Friday when a committee bill stalled.
Rep. Sean Quinlan, chairman of the House Economic Development Committee, has put House 359 bill on hold without a vote.
The proposal has divided the native Hawaiian community and the Hawaiian Homeland Commission on whether an Oahu casino is the right way to generate revenue to get Hawaiians into homes and on land.
An accompanying bill, Senate Act 1321, remains alive and is due to be negotiated Thursday in the Senate's Hawaiian Affairs Committee.
"It's an emotional problem for me, honestly," Quinlan told the Honolulu Star Advertiser after his decision to defer HB 359. "Ultimately it was really not about a casino. Basically, it was about the waiting lists. We have repeatedly decided not to fund DHHL properly. … But maybe the casino was not the right way."
Nonetheless, he applauded DHHL for developing a concept “that was brave and resourceful”.
The Hawaiian Home Lands program was launched a century ago to bring Hawaiians back to their home countries through farming, aquaculture, grazing, and housing with 50% native Hawaiian blood. However, there is a waiting list of some beneficiaries who have been on the list for decades.
DHHL needs over US $ 6 billion for infrastructure costs alone and is expected to take at least another 100 years to fulfill its mandate at current funding levels.
According to both the House and Senate bills, a "betting tax" of 45% would be levied on all gross gaming revenues of the casino. Of that, the Hawaiian Home Operating Fund accounted for 75%, the Native Hawaiian Rehabilitation Fund 5%, the State General Fund 15%, and a new State Gaming Fund 5%.
Quinlan’s decision followed testimony from Honolulu police and prosecutors and other opponents of HB 359 – and sometimes passionate testimony from Tyler Gomes, deputy to DHHL chairman William Aila.
Gomes told the House Committee that a DHHL casino could be different from Las Vegas and social grievances could be alleviated.
DHHL came up with the idea for a casino in October when the state's ongoing economic troubles due to COVID-19 made it clear that DHHL will not receive the funds it needs to further contain the waiting list.
A 58-page bill was then received by the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission just before Christmas – on the eve of the legislature – and the commission approved the concept with 5-4 votes.
On Friday, Gomes told Quinlan's committee that a resort casino "is the only solution currently available to bridge the $ 4.5 billion gap. 28,000 native Hawaiians live and die on the waiting list while." we're waiting for an idea that doesn't come up. "
DHHL has worked to cut costs and generate revenue, but Gomes told the star advertiser that there is no other idea than a casino to raise millions of dollars quickly.
If anything, DHHL's proposal has again drawn attention to the lack of funding and demand for Hawaiian homeland, so Gomes said he was not "disappointed" with Rep. Quinlan's delay.
"It was an opportunity to reshape the discussion about how to properly fund the department," Gomes told the star advertiser. "We have more people talking about this 100 year old funding problem."
Just as the issue of a casino split the local Hawaiian community, Gomes said he received texts and phone calls on Friday that both supported and criticized his decision.
In a statement, Aila, Chair of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, thanked DHHL staff for “producing such a bold and innovative idea to fill the devastating budget gap that this department faces year after year. Although the committee's postponement of HB 359 was not an ideal outcome, we look forward to the future with hope. The related Senate bill will be heard next week, and we thank the legislature across the board for bringing this conversation to the table. As we have commented, there are currently no other proposals of this magnitude that could fill the gap in our funding shortages. "
Hawaii and Utah are the only states that prohibit all forms of legal gambling.
Legalization of games in Hawaii continues to be opposed by Hawaii's top officials, including Governor David Ige, Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki.
But Saiki and Kouchi presented the DHHL casino bills in their respective chambers at the request of the DHHL to have a debate on gambling in general, and specifically, how to raise the money to get rid of the DHHL -Residue is required.
OTHER GAMBLING bills remain alive through this year's term, including:
>> SB 853, SB 561 and HB 363, which would enable a state lottery.
>> HB 457, which examines the feasibility of various forms of gambling, including offshore gambling, a lottery and the question of whether two casinos can be allowed in West Oahu “without affecting the aloha spirit and Hawaii as the gambling capital consider. ”
>> HB 772, which would enable a single Las Vegas style casino on the Hawai'i Convention Center.