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Amendments provide for Hawaiian Home Lands 5 years to determine casino future

The issue of whether to make an exception to Hawaii’s ban on all forms of gambling by allowing a casino near Kapolei to help clear the backlog of more than 28,000 Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries appears to be heading back to the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission, which would have five years to figure out if a casino resort is the best way to get Native Hawaiians into homes and onto their ancestral lands.

Proposed amendments to Senate Bill 1321 would kick the issue of Hawaii’s first casino back to the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission, which voted 5 to 4 to endorse the concept in December and introduce it before the Legislature.

The Hawaiian Home Lands commission would have until Dec. 31, 2026 to figure out whether it wants to pursue the resort casino concept, under several amendments to SB1321 proposed by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, said state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, chairwoman of the Senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee today.

One of Dela Cruz’s amendments would require endorsement of the casino concept by “a super majority” of the Hawaiian Home Lands commission, Shimabukuro said.

At Dela Cruz’ suggestion, Shimabukuro said that the amended SB1321 would not provide a “green light” for gambling, but would be limited to only allow the Home Lands commission to decide how to proceed as part of Native Hawaiian “self determination.”

The proposed amended bill would not allow gaming “across the board” and would specifically prohibit Native American Indian tribes from operating casinos in the islands, Shimabukuro said.

Tyler Gomes, deputy to DHHL Chairman William Aila, told the Hawaiian Affairs Committee that “we appreciate the affirmation of self determination.”

Gomes said the proposed amendments that would give the commission five years to debate a casino would allow “for the department to do due diligence.”

The original version of SB1321 was opposed by the Honolulu Prosecutor’s office and Honolulu Police Department, along with a petition signed by 15,600 people that was organized by Hawaiian Affairs Committee member Sen. Kurt Fevella, the Senate Republican minority leader and minority floor leader.

The House Economic Development Committee last week deferred the original House version of SB1321, stalling it in the House.

The Hawaiian Affairs Committee today also considered two new bills, SB85 — which would allow DHHL to pursue “lottery and bingo enterprises;” and SB86 — which would allow DHHL to “engage in the operation of medical cannabis dispensaries.” 

Both bills are expected to return to the senate Hawaiian Affairs Committee at an unspecified date. Shimabukuro said.

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