Aloha…and Then There Was One

All things being equal, it looks like Hawaii, birthplace of Barack Obama and surfing, is finally going to legalise betting – leaving Utah as the last holdout in the 50-state union to have a ban on all forms of gambling.

In these days of Trumpian political animosity and dysfunction, Blue Democratic Hawaii and Red Republican Utah have made strange anti-gambling bed pals; perhaps otherwise only united by their traditional religiosity.

But this month Hawaii’s State Legislature–otherwise known as the ‘Aha’ōlelo kau kānāwai o ka Moku’āina o Hawai’i—began the passage of a raft of bills that will see gaming on casino, lotto and fantasy sports betting come ashore in the north Pacific archipelago of eight islands.

It means that Hawaii’s 1.44 million citizens, who live some 2,000-miles from the US mainland, will finally have the opportunity and pleasure of placing a legal wager — after decades of not even having an eminently respectable state lottery.

There’s nothing quite like a traditional casino to kick things off and House Bill 1820 proposes to grant a 10-year licence for a private members-only casino hotel on the island of Waikiki.

In outline, guests will have to stay for a minimum of 24-hours at the hotel and buy a US$20 day pass to gamble in the casino.

The bill also calls for a state gaming fund and, crucially, a responsible gambling programme.

House Bill 2004, being mooted by Representative Angus McKelvey, Democrat, District 10, is a novel attempt to legalize fantasy sports betting in Hawaii by the simple expedient of exempting it from the state’s definition of gambling.

“[Fantasy sports] is not something like roulette,” argues McKelvey. “It’s a very skill-based thing that takes into account a number of factors.

“Bettors aren’t risking their money on games of chance. They’re looking at a myriad of elements, like how a team’s performance could be affected by injuries to key players and how teams have matched up in the past,” he says.

The Penny Drops

McKelvey has found an ally in fellow Democrat Representative Sean Quinlan, Chair of the House Economic Development Committee, who wants to work on the issue ahead of the next legislative session.

“At some point, this is something we absolutely should do,” says Quinlan. “It’s a huge market, and we’d be missing out on tax revenues.”

Mainland fantasy sports heavy-hitters, like DraftKings, FanDuel and Monkey Knife Fight, are sharpening their weapons of choice.

House Bill 1973, meanwhile, seeks to emasculate illicit sports betting on the islands by regulating sports wagering and putting it under the umbrella of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

Licensees would be pay 10 per cent tax on their adjusted gross sports wagering receipts, it proposes.

House Bill 2040–the big Hawaii Five O, and perhaps the most certain to pass into law–seeks to establish a state lottery — and a gaming corporation to oversee all gambling. As is common practice pretty much everywhere, the lottery would have a special fund for community charities.

Other bills aim to regulate iGaming on mobile devices, and formally investigate potential betting revenue streams.

House Bill 1973, introduced by Representative Chris Todd, Democrat, District 2 (47 of the House of Representative’s 51 legislators are Democrats), would make Hawaii an open iGaming market with an unlimited number of licensees, each paying a fee of US$50,000 (£36,750/€44,000) every three-years to operate.

Todd is calling for a 10 per cent starting tax rate – a modest sum compared to a swingeing gaming tax of the 55 per cent being sought by Vice-Speaker John Mizuno of District 28.

Yes, you’ve guessed it, Mizuno is yet another Democrat in Hawaii’s august House of Representatives.

If only Aloha, the “very breath of life”, and gaming itself were such a sure bet.

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