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Friday, February 11, 2000

Hawaii State Seal

House Tourism
Committee approves
shipboard gambling

Monies from fees would go to
schools, treatment of
gambling addiction

By Pat Omandam


Some state legislators believe they may have found a way to get the money needed to build and fix all of Hawaii's public schools, fund a free statewide kindergarten program for all 4-year-olds and offer free college scholarships to qualified high school students.

All it has to do is agree to bet on it.

Legislature 2000 The House Tourism Committee today approved an amended shipboard gambling bill that dedicates nearly all of the revenues the state would receive to education.

House Bill 2904 HD1, which passed by a vote of 7-3 today, would require up to four separate shipboard gambling operators to pay the state 12 percent of any revenue it earns from shipboard gambling, with an intial $10 million paid upfront by each.

The revenues received by the state would go into a state gaming fund, from which 96 percent would go to public education, 2 percent to gambling addiction/intervention programs and the remaining 2 percent to administrative costs.

It is estimated shipboard gaming would generate about $83 million a year, from which the state would take its share.

Each person would pay a $10 fee to board the cruise ships.

Tourism Committee Chairman Jerry Chang (D, Hilo), who introduced the bill, said today he will have a lot of explaining to do before other House members if the measure is to succeed in the House judiciary and finance committees before moving on to the Senate.

"This is just a framework of what a shipboard gaming bill would look like," Chang said. "It is not the final version."

Earlier this week, the bill received mostly negative testimony from people who believe the increased social problems that come with legalized gambling will far outweigh any of its economic benefits. Opponents added these "cruises to nowhere" will lead to more crime and corruption in Hawaii.

Supporters of the measure, however, said shipboard gambling has the potential to jump-start Hawaii's economy. Legalized gambling is widely accepted by Hawaii residents as well as the rest of the country.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association considers shipboard gaming the most acceptable form of gaming and offered its support this week. Russell K. Okata, HGEA executive director, said gaming is not a panacea for the economic recession that plagues the state, but it could help revitalize it.

"Shipboard gaming especially promises immediately new jobs and much needed additional tax revenues," Okata said.

"It will complement the other visitor-related attractions and activities to attract more international visitors and keep Hawaii as the No. 1 tourist destination in the world."

Some in the hotel industry agreed. Max J. Sword of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts, said the company supports the idea of gaming as long as it is tied to other forms of visitor industry activities, such as the Polynesian Cultural Center or Hilo Hatties.

Gaming, in whatever form, should be set up in a controlled environment, such as in a single building or, as in this bill, on a ship, he said.

"The final issue is that the control of gaming be as tight and thorough as the Nevada gaming laws, which are the toughest that I know," Sword testified.

A July 1998 report on gambling by the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism found gambling has economic benefits only if there is new spending brought into the state.

If local residents choose to spend money at shipboard casinos instead of downtown or Waikiki, the money merely changes hands and no new money is brought into the state, thereby negating claims by gambling proponents of more jobs and income, the report said.

Get involved

You can track bills, hearings and other Legislature action via:

Bullet The Legislative Reference Bureau's public access room, state Capitol, room 401. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Friday, and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Phone: 587-0478; fax, 587-0793; TTY, 538-9670.

Neighbor islanders, call toll-free and enter ext. 70478 after the number:

Big Island, 974-4000; Maui,

984-2400; Kauai, 274-3141;

Molokai and Lanai, 468-4644.

Bullet The state's daily Internet listing of hearings:

Bullet The Legislature's automated bill report service: 586-7000.

Bullet The state's general Web page:

Bullet Our Web site:

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