View Point

By Debi Hartmann

Saturday, August 23, 1997

Gambling won’t
fix our economy

Legalizing casinos would tarnish
our state's image and savage our families

The concern over our state's prolonged economic downturn has led to a resurgence in support for some "get-rich-quick" solutions such as casino gambling.

A piece recently appeared on a newspaper opinion page chastising Hawaii's tourism industry for being so naive in thinking that Hawaii's tourism draw is its natural beauty and culture and not gambling. The argument that Hawaii needs to legalize gambling in order to remain a competitive tourist destination is specious.

Casino gambling is a direct threat to Hawaii's image, economy and community. Hawaii cannot afford to sacrifice its status as one of the world's most sought after visitor experiences. People come here because of our beautiful beaches, wonderful weather, and dramatic scenery, but most of all because of our people.

Our islands are known as a family vacation destination. Casino gambling seriously conflicts with this image.

It is a myth that gambling is a state revenue booster.

First, tourists budget a set amount of money for their vacations. They do not increase their budgets in anticipation of gambling. So the money now spent at our tourist attractions and restaurants would be diverted to the casinos.

Second, casino gambling would severely affect our existing small businesses when inexpensive restaurants and shops are built into the casinos.

Third, promises of million-dollar tax revenues used to benefit a state's education system, social service programs and its overall economy rarely pan out.

New Orleans is an excellent example of a city that bet on gambling and lost. Like Hawaii, New Orleans is a unique tourist destination. People visit New Orleans for its culture, music and history -- not gambling.

In fact, this month's Honolulu magazine cover story interviews former Hawaii developer Chris Hemmeter on his involvement with New Orleans' recent casino failure. As noted in the article, the economic debacle created a financial loss for New Orleans' taxpayers. Gambling also has tainted the city's image with crime, drugs, political corruption and a failing economy.

Aside from the economic consequences, casino gambling will have significant social ramifications for everyone. Legalizing casino gambling will send the wrong message to our children. We tell our kids to work hard and they will be successful -- then we promote "luck of the draw" policies.

Long-term social problems such as gambling addictions and organized crime will destroy the traditional culture and community that makes Hawaii so special.

We cannot afford to become known as the Las Vegas of the Pacific. Nothing will harm our economy more than the undermining of Hawaii's image as paradise. Let's not sacrifice our children's future on an alluring short-term fix.

Debi Hartmann is chairwoman of
Hawaii's Future Today, a grassroots coalition opposed to the
legalization of casino gambling, prostitution and same-sex marriage.
The opinions in View Point columns are the authors'
and are not necessarily shared by the Star-Bulletin.

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