Gambling in Hawaii: Is It Ever Going to Happen?

Gambling in Hawaii: Is It Ever Going to Happen?

Ever since my first trip to Hawaii in the 1970s, I have been mesmerized by the beauty of the Hawaiian islands.

I made my first flight to Oahu in 1978 in a Flying Boxcar, a lumbering four-engine plane that carried a company of Arizona National Guardsmen. The military men were involved in a joint training exercise whereby they would learn jungle warfare while a contingent group of Hawaiian troops would study desert warfare in Arizona. I was along for the ride after being assigned by Phoenix Gazette editor Vic Thornton to cover their activities.

To make a long story short, I fell in love with the chain of islands that Samuel Clements nicknamed 'The Rainbow Islands.' From scenic Pali Point overlooking the Pacific Ocean, where the warm trade winds were so powerful they kept you from falling over a cliff to Diamond Head and Waikiki Beach, I found myself wanting to live and work there.

My stay in Hawaii, during which I visited Hilo on the Big Island, was much too short. Since then, I have made two more journeys to Hawaii and am just as interested in relocating there as I have been in the past.

One reason I have not made my move is that gambling and specifically poker is not legal in Hawaii.

Growing efforts are underway in the Hawaiian Legislature to legalize the construction of a casino in Waikiki. And a prominent Hilo restaurant owner has been polling Hawaiian residents for years to see if they would support legalized gambling on the islands (In every case, he discovered they would by a large percentage). But so far the efforts of the pro-gaming enthusiasts have not achieved their desired results.


Not that Hawaii doesn't have gambling. There is a huge underground gambling industry on the island that siphons off many millions of dollars annually to syndicates that are mostly criminally controlled.

Hawaii's permanent residents are made up of many nationalities -- Koreans, Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese and others, many of whom have a passion for gambling. I see this in Las Vegas, Reno, Phoenix and Florida where I have lived and enjoyed a game of poker.

Statistics show that Hawaiians often travel to Las Vegas to gamble. In fact, the California Club in downtown Las Vegas specializes in attracting people from Hawaii to its games and often offer discount packages to draw Hawaiians to its premises.

Although Hawaii is one of the premiere tourist destinations in the world, there is little to do in Waikiki, Hilo and the other towns and cities after dark. A casino with top entertainment and gambling would fulfill that gap and bring in a lot of fresh money from tourists.

As gambling gains support in Hawaii, it seems only a matter of time before the Legislature will approve casino gambling in the state. Only Hawaii and Utah have banned all forms of gambling. All we can do is wait for it to happen. If Mark Twain were alive, you can bet that the author of all those great stories about Virginia City would vote in favor of the change.

“gambling and specifically poker is not legal in Hawaii”

  • Ive never lived in Hawaii or been there , it is very beautiful in pictures and film. I loved reading all your comments above. I can see your points made. Ive lived in many cities that people would not like to see casinos go up . If Hawaii kept them in already touristy hotel areas I don't see where the industry would be a problem. A lot of people would vacation in Hawaii as they do in the Caribbean .
  • Thank both of you for your responses. I knew I would be the minority, being this is a gambling blog. Jade, thank you for offering the counter point to some of my concerns. I don't see legalized gambling as a threat to my community, however my opinions on this matter are meant to represent the voices of those who influenced me while I was a guest on their Island. The level of respect that the Hawaiian people have for their Island is unparalleled & contagious. I agree that there are beautiful places all over this planet, however, I am sure that most people would agree that Hawaii, is top shelf when it comes to Nature's Eye Candy! If it were just like "any state in the union", we wouldn't be here reading an editorial about it. You made reference to the Lottery bringing money to schools and how that investment in Education could help eliminate the transient problem in the future. I totally agree that Education is key to eliminating most of the poverty in the United States. I also realize that the Lottery is intended to fund Public Education. In fact, every moment I spent in Hawaii revolved around my interest in the subject of Public Education. I am a contractor for the Dept. of Ed. & my team were responsible for the Technology Implementation that took place there over the course of the five years I lived there. I visited, assessed, installed & educated nearly 300 public schools spread out over six islands. Many State Lotteries are the resource allocated to fund my work, so there is no doubt that I support the Lottery. The original comment regarding the Lottery had little to do with a Lottery in Hawaii. Instead it was about my own published greedy desire to purchase & win the Powerball that was taking place on the Mainland. The rant had very little depth to it, since I was not even considering any effects on the community, whether good or bad. I just wanted to get in on the action! The tunnel vision I had about being able to play is what I reference as ignorant about my rant. Not the value of a lottery system. The purpose of including the information about buying the car in Wai'anae was to point out the Disney influence at the time & the Native woman's response to the influx of money & tourism on the Leeward side of Oahu. Prior to Disney's arrival, the West was mostly rural/native communities, as far away from the "Waikiki" influences as possible. I hoped by sharing that information it would somehow reflect that Hawaiian's did not seem interested in selling out the little remaining protected land Oahu has left. It is such a complex issue that I can not even imagine how locals must feel. I will say this, there were protests & picketers trying to prevent the Waikiki Saks 5th Ave/HM project. The locals stood in front of the Tiki Village prior to its closure with Petitions that cited their outrage over being shut out of Downtown Waikiki. I am sure the Casino will make it's way to Hawaii, probably Oahu. When it does, there will be one casino in the World that I don't want to play at. Call me superstitious, but I think Pele & Queen Kamehameha would not be very pleased.
  • @ JennaROX, I too appreciate your comments and concerns just as OOPaloo commented above. I too, have called Ohau home and over the years, I have traveled all over this country. You can make the same comments you have made and fit any state in the unions name in place of Hawaii. As far as the people on the beach go, in my opinion, because they are US islands, off the pacific coast, they are the first stop for illegal drugs and illegal immigrants before they hit the California coast. The Hawaiian Islands have, like many other states, a huge illegal immigrant problem, illegal drug problems and have been overrun by gangs since before you and I were born. Things are not going to change anytime soon. The beaches on the islands represent the overpasses and ghettos in states without a beach. As far as the lottery goes, it helps fund free education which helps get the poor off the beach and out of these places. When the police clear out these places, they are doing their job to keep everyone safe, you, me and them. I hear what your saying, but I think your blame is misplaced. Illegal anything, whether it is drugs, immigration or gambling creates violence. I can't see legalized gambling as an additional problem, I think, in many ways, it can help. I maybe wrong, but I had to give you my thoughts about it.
  • Dear JennaROX, Thanks for your heartfelt thought provoking comments...from me, to you, one who has been there...and walked a mile in the shoes of the downtrodden...
  • Legalizing gambling in Hawaii would be huge i would probably stay an extra month on the island for vacation just the gambling itself, cant wait for that day to come true.
  • OOPaloo I can't speak for the People of Hawaii, as I am not Native, nor a resident any longer. However, I will say this, there is a very strong family value there & many seeing gambling as detrimental to family values. I will share an experience I had when I first arrived on Oahu to give you a sense of what it is like. In 2009, I packed up and went to Hawaii all alone & totally uneducated. I leased a condominium in Ko'Olina which is a private resort on the west side of the island. In my search for a vehicle, I found the car I wanted nearby in Wai'anae. At the time, I was unaware of the drastic difference I was about to experience beyond the guarded gates of Ko'Olina. After arriving to buy the car, I noticed the Beach was covered with tents of transients whom had obviously been living there. The woman who placed the ad told me to wait there with her while the car is driven to where we were. She told me that they lived on the reservation & that white people ( or anyone that is not of Native descent ) are not allowed to step foot on the reservation's land. That was my first of many eye opening experiences about the contrast between the Wealthy Tourist Attractions & the hidden reality for so many locals & natives. The divide between haves/have nots is so unbelievable that I was then & still today am shocked by it. During those first few months living & working there I learned more & more about the current atmosphere on Oahu. Disney had just signed a deal with Ko'Olina to begin construction on Aulani. Aulani would bring jobs to Oahu but few if any would be given to any Natives. All of those tents along Wai'anae beaches were scooped up by police & transients were told to vacate. I am sure Disney had some influence on that atrocity. I still don't know what became of those people.
  • I have a lot to say about this story. Big surprise there, right? I worked in Hawaii from 2009-2014, spending about six months of each year living on Oahu & Maui. I am so sad even imagining that Hawaiian Legislatures are considering this. Daniel Inyoue would be so disappointed. Hawaii is such a beautiful place & most people visit Hawaii to witness that beauty. Until you have spent time there, you just can't grasp how incredibly rewarding that natural environment is for your soul. I am a passionate gambler who lives on an incredible planet that is much too often taken for granted. I truly hope that any Casino plans are shot down ~ especially for Oahu. The natives have been shut out of Waikiki in the last three years with the large scale Saks 5th Avenue project that was built where the Tiki Village once stood. The Tiki Village was centrally located in Waikiki and until it closed, it was the only place local merchants could sell to the tourists. The village was made up of dozens of Kiosk's/small rolled door shops that were packed with merchandise for tourists. Everything around the Village was a huge Corporate storefront, Hotel or restaurant. Now Saks, H&M and others stand where local merchants once had their tiny kiosks. It is really sad. I remember being there when that huge Powerball pot kept rolling over with no winner a few years ago, I took to the internet bitching about Hawaii's no gambling policy & my inability to participate in such a big gambling moment. Looking back now, I shudder at my ignorance & self-serving rant. The Hawaii of the late 60s & 70s is so far away from where we are now & anyone who really loves Hawaii has to know there was a lot more to appreciate when there were just a couple Hotels along the pristine beaches of Waikiki. Spending so much time there, I spoke to natives daily about the changes to their beloved Islands & if there is a casino built there it would break my heart.
  • I love Hawaii. I was just a kid when my family moved to Oahu at Schofield Barracks, home of the 25th Infantry which lies back to back with Wheeler Army Airfield. We lived there for several years, courtesy of the US Army. You didn't mention it but there are seven active military facilities plus several others and I just wonder if all these government facilities and the military bases on the other islands have something to add to why gambling is no allowed in Hawaii. I admit gambling in Hawaii would make a near perfect getaway for holiday. I haven't been back in a very long time, but legalized gambling makes sense, especially for tourism. I've always looked forward to going back one day......
  • Hawaii already has so much going for it that casino gambling would simply put frosting on the cake.
  • Hawaii is such a tropical paradise you would think that gambling would really enhance the tourist trade there. But on the other hand maybe they feel they have such an attractive tourist destination that they don't need gambling. I wonder what it is about the culture or power structure in Hawaii that makes gambling so anathema to the state? The Mormon Church and that cultural background makes the distaste for gambling understandable in Utah, but what is it about Hawaii and games of chance? Are state sponsored lotteries also no in existence there?

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