Gambling appears dead for session


POSTED: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

As opponents of legalized gambling launch a lobbying campaign this week, legislators who support the idea say it is all but dead this year.

The Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling brought out John Kindt, a University of Illinois business professor and gambling critic, to lobby the state Legislature this week.

Kindt says neither gambling nor a lottery would help Hawaii's weakened economy.

“;In the long term, it is going to be socially and economically destructive,”; Kindt said yesterday at a news conference at the state Capitol.

Honolulu prosecutor Peter Carlisle said gambling is opposed by the four county chiefs of police and prosecutors. “;We don't need to import another problem like this from the mainland,”; he said.

The pair, along with Ira Rohter, University of Hawaii professor and vice president of the anti-gambling coalition, said the social problems that gambling would attract outweigh the money that would be collected.

Many local churches and religious organizations are also opposed to gambling, according to the coalition.

Still, gambling has its supporters at the Capitol, although they admit the bills to permit it are not likely to pass.

“;I don't think they will even get a hearing,”; says Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Aiea-Halawa-Kalihi), who supports the idea.

Kim says she supports gambling because it would bring in increased revenue by providing more recreational opportunities for tourists and also would increase tourism.

“;It is not the answer to all our problems, but it is another spoke in the wheel,”; Kim said.

She was joined by Sen. Fred Hemmings, the Republican Senate leader, who said if a gambling bill were proposed for a limited time, in a specific geographical location, and if the money raised would offset state taxes, he would be in favor of it.

“;The problem is we are exporting a tremendous amount of money to Vegas. People are going to gamble anyway, so if we can utilizing gaming in a focused way, let's try it out,”; said Hemmings (Kailua-Hawaii Kai).

In the state House, Rep. Joe Souki (D, Wailuku-Waikapu), a longtime supporter of gambling, said he doesn't believe it will bring the social ills that worry its opponents.

“;They are just trying to instill fear in the people. ... They are treating us like children,”; Souki said.

Souki and Kim say the issue should be put to a statewide vote, because they think Hawaii voters would approve legalized gambling.

“;The public should have a choice if they want to gamble. These fear-mongers are taking away this choice,”; Souki said.

Jack Hoag, a member of the anti-gambling coalition, said he worried about such a vote, because gaming interests would pour in advertising money to influence the outcome.

“;We would be overwhelmed and they would smash us with media,”; Hoag said. “;We might lose if we went to a plebiscite.”;