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Isle gaming has backers and foes


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POSTED: Saturday, May 30, 2009

When state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim met with a senior citizens group yesterday morning, the first question asked was, “;Why are you raising our taxes? Why don't you legalize gambling?”;

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; Kim, who helped write a state budget that is balanced with a series of state tax increases, says she supports gambling, but adds it is not popular with other legislators.

Hawaii and Utah are the only states with no form of legalized betting, but as the state budget crisis extends with a new drop of $612 million less to spend, Kim says gambling is worth a look.

The issue of gambling is also on the mind of the community. Dalnam Park, a research associate for the Queen's Medical Center, says he has been thinking about gambling because of the state's budget shortfall.

“;I think it will bring in money for the state; but it may attract local people to gamble, and it may look like it is bringing in money but it is just local money, said Park, who is from Oregon.

“;Casinos bring in a lot of money in Oregon, and a lot of that money goes to schools and roads. I think if it is done correctly, it could really help the state,”; Park said.

But Beverly Kamamoto, an administrative assistant, said she knows people with gambling problems. If it is legalized, more local people will be in debt, she said.

“;I am against it,”; Kamamoto said.

Lobbyist John Radcliffe, who has been employed by gambling interests in Michigan, said some form of gaming would “;provide Hawaii with a clear revenue stream. It is obviously a tax stream that works in 48 other states,”; Radcliffe said.

Radcliffe says gambling could not be discussed at the Legislature because of three things: There are mainland gambling interests that do not want to lose Hawaii gamblers, Hawaii has a strong religious lobby and the state has a strong tendency to resist new political ideas.

“;And there is an old question about fearing that native Hawaiians would have an upper hand if they had gambling like native Americans have,”; Radcliffe said.

Kim adds that while she has pushed for it this year and believes it would be supported by voters, other lawmakers will not touch the issue.

“;I can't believe that the other 48 states have rampant crime and other social problems just because of gaming. Other states are nice places to live, too,”; Kim said.

She said gambling would not solve Hawaii's problems, but it “;would be another source of revenue.”;

Republican state Sen. Sam Slom said he continues to oppose both gambling and tax increases.

“;You talk about extra revenue, but the extra money would come from the same people, the taxpayers. All you are doing is take more money,”; Slom said.

And state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland jokingly added that perhaps what Hawaii should do is “;tax people who leave here to gamble in Las Vegas.”;