Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Hawaii's State House of Representatives considered 17 gambling-based initiatives this year, and while a number of those gained a fair amount of political momentum -- along with a lot of attention from the local media -- all of them were essentially dead by the end of last month.

According to Dianne Kay, president of the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling, 2010's batch of gaming bills was not only significantly larger than in previous years, but several of the initiatives seemed to meet with less resistance from state legislators. In fact, one bill, aimed at creating a standalone casino for visitors in Waikiki, advanced further through the State House's complicated committee hearing process than any of the many others Kay has seen during her eight-plus years with the HCALG.

"That one was deferred by the Finance Committee," Kaye said. "And we were very, very relieved to see that happen. It was a spectacular hearing."

Speaker of the House Calvin Say, a Democratic state representative who played an instrumental role in moving the Waikiki casino bill forward, said the state's $1.2 billion budget shortfall meant a wide range of options had to be considered.

"Gaming was just one possibility out of many other topics or issues we tried to address in confronting our budget shortfall," Say told Travel Weekly. "We had to consider certain tax increases and fee increases, the sale of public and ceded lands and gambling. All of these, and many other topics, were ones we wanted to address in trying to generate incomes and revenues to the state."

Hawaii is certainly no stranger to the annual introduction of proposed gaming bills, which frequently garner a great deal of local media coverage. Over the past couple of years, however, proposed gambling legislation has attracted national media attention as well.

Kay said she thinks the recent economic downturn has not only helped to alter many local legislators' attitudes toward legalized gambling, but also led to a great deal more media interest.

"It certainly has gotten more attention this year and in 2009, unquestionably," she said. "I just gave our office manager a huge stack of newspaper clippings, which is quite unusual. Many of them were just letters to the editor, but I think that's because so many stories have been written."

Increased media coverage or not, Kay insists the HCALG works year-round and will definitely be back at it for the likely introduction of next year's gambling bills.

"People don't come to Hawaii to gamble," Kay said. "They come to enjoy the scenic beauty and the culture. It's a family destination, and we don't want that to change."

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