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Hawaiian Homes Commission will deliborate on proposal for Kapolei casino

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands plans to ask the Hawaiian Homes Commission next week to approve supporting a proposed bill that would authorize the development of a casino in Kapolei, according to the department's posted agenda.

The agenda item for the Dec. 20-21 virtual meeting and workshop refers to a bill that would allow casino gaming in a "single integrated resort property in Kapolei ... on Hawaiian Home Lands designated for commercial use." The proposal is being presented as a possible solution to help mitigate the department's "historic budget shortfalls," which have been worsened by the pandemic. If approved, the bill would be introduced in the legislative session that starts on Jan. 20.

Hawaii is one of only two states, including Utah, where gambling is illegal.

“While I can appreciate DHHL’s effort to identify revenue generating sources, I’m in strong opposition to their proposal to build a casino in Kapolei," said State Sen. Mike Gabbard, who presides over District 20 which includes Kapolei, Makakilo, and portions of Ewa, Kalaeloa, and Waipahu, in a statement Wednesday. "I’d instead encourage DHHL to focus on those kinds of projects to raise revenue which are less controversial and have less of a social impact."

One of the last times Hawaii's Legislature considered gambling-related bills was in 2017 when two Senate bills related to online gambling, a lottery, online poker and fantasy sports were introduced, according to previous reporting by Pacific Business News. Neither bill passed.

“Given the impact of Covid-19 on our state’s economy, the department is proposing a bold measure that has proven successful for indigenous groups in generating critically needed revenue to improve the lives of their people,” Tyler Iokepa Gomes, deputy to the chair, said in a statement.“We are at a pivotal moment in the history of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act and resources to develop infrastructure and acquire lands will be needed to fulfill the vision of Prince Kuhio.”