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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Monday, December 18, 2000

Bingo comes B-4
legalized gambling

WHAT was that sound I just heard? Was it the sound of Native American tribes saying "Bingo!"?

It could be that gambling interests have found a back door to bring legalized gambling to Hawaii. All because the Army refused to pay a $1,500 bingo jackpot to the husband of a cashier at the Waianae Army Beach Club.

It appears that while gambling, including bingo, is illegal in Hawaii, the military feels it is exempt from that state law. The Army has been quietly running a bingo game at the Waianae Army Beach Club for years. It would have stayed quiet except that Asa Durrett, husband of a club cashier, recently won the jackpot. The Army refused to pay because of a rule that says family members of people working at the club are not allowed to play. Durrett, who's been playing (and losing at) bingo for five years, wants his money. What is at stake could be a lot bigger than the $1,500 jackpot.

The only way the bingo games could be legal is if the club allows people to play for free. To put it another way, if you run a game of chance and there is a jackpot, you can't charge people to participate. Or, to put it one more way, you could run a lottery in Hawaii as long as you gave away the tickets. Now, some people might be stupid enough to buy lottery tickets that they could get for free but ... no, I take that back. Nobody's that stupid.

So, are they charging people in Waianae to play? You bet. Participants pay $18 for dinner and bingo, which is clever because the Army claims the $18 is for the food, not the bingo cards. If a club in Waikiki tried to do that, the vice squad would be all over it like green felt on a craps table. If people could play bingo for free at the Waianae Army Beach Club, they would be playing for free. They would not be buying the scrumptious $18 dinner, even though, when you think of fine cuisine, the Waianae Army Beach Club immediately springs to mind.

DON'T get me wrong. I love gambling. I'm one of those weirdos who think Las Vegas is on the cutting edge of architecture and entertainment. Where else in the world can you flush your money down a New York toilet with a scale model of the Statue of Liberty just outside your hotel room and then walk a couple of yards and flush your money down a Venice toilet and walk a few more yards and flush your money down a toilet in a replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza? And you can keep walking and flushing your money down various toilets until you're broke and then you can watch a fake volcano erupt. That's class.

I love gambling. I hate hypocrisy. And what we are seeing in Waianae is rank hypocrisy. The Honolulu police are applying the smell test to the Waianae Army Beach Club bingo operation. Sniff, sniff. Hmmmm. Smells an awful lot like gambling. If it is allowed to go on, Hawaii may have just opened the door to legalized gambling for the entire state. If there is any form of legal gambling in a state, Indian tribes can, with the permission of the U.S. Interior Department, buy land and open gambling operations.

They are supposed to limit their games to the type of games allowed in the state, but some have opened full-fledged casinos where only bingo was legal. Hawaii and Utah are the only states left that have no form of legalized gambling. It would be ironic if the refusal to pay off a measly $1,500 jackpot in a Waianae Coast bingo game brought legalized gambling to Hawaii.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to

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