Erika Engle

Texas Hold ’em forces
commission to raise ante

THE massive popularity of the card game Texas Hold 'em, a version of poker, is causing the Honolulu Liquor Commission to change its procedures.

The growing popularity comes from the game being played on cable television. But people cannot play Texas Hold 'em any place they would like.

Any business licensed by the liquor commission is required to seek approval for activities within its premises, said Liquor Control Administrator Wallace Weatherwax.

The full commission has so far rejected at least a half-dozen applications for events including Texas Hold 'em because of concerns there was no way to prevent illegal gambling and concerns about enforcement.

In the meantime, Weatherwax, at the commission's behest, has had the authority to approve casino nights at bars, nightclubs and on other premises.

Recent requests to include Texas Hold 'em as part of a casino night have caused the commission to rule that any licensee requesting a casino night go not to Weatherwax but to the full commission for fine-toothed comb review. Weatherwax has consistently denied the poker portion of casino night applications, he said.

"The commission's rules say that even card-playing, because it's so close to gambling and hard to enforce, they're going to review (all such applications)," Weatherwax said.

This means businesses seeking casino night approvals "have to get their requests in earlier," he said. A request made two weeks in advance of an event should allow ample time for the item to be publicized on the meeting agenda a week ahead of a commission hearing, as required under the Sunshine Law, he said.

No room at the inns

The Pro Bowl and Valentine's Day and the mere fact that it is February have Hawaii hotels at high occupancy.

"It's been probably the strongest Pro Bowl we've seen" in terms of occupancy, said Joseph Toy, president of Hospitality Advisors LLC.

Daily hotel occupancy for the week of Feb. 6 through Feb. 12 was 86.3 percent, more than 10 percent higher than the week leading up to Pro Bowl 2004, which was held Feb. 8. This year's game was held Feb. 13, the day before Valentine's.

It is highly likely that the juxtaposition of the games and the most romantic day of the year caused the large increase, Toy said. "We've made a very conscious effort to market Hawaii as a romance destination. That push, combined with the high season, February is the highest month of the year, it certainly would make sense ... and the romance market is typically a high-yielding market."

The gains were made due to "a number of issues, but clearly the most dominant factor was the Pro Bowl," said Keith Vieira, senior vice president of Starwood Hotels & Resorts for Hawaii and French Polynesia.

Hotel guests came from the mainland and the neighbor islands and "we had been sold out four straight nights" over the weekend, Vieira said.

Some mainlanders were also enjoying the beginning of spring break, "so when you lay all those things together it would end up being a very strong period."

Last year, the week after Pro Bowl was even stronger than the week leading up to the game, Toy said. "Not only did we have carryover visitors who extended and stayed, but we had a major convention with Cisco Systems and we had the Great Aloha Run as well."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: eengle@starbulletin.com

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