For as long as anyone can remember, there have been no legal forms of gambling permitted in Hawaii. It’s not just commercial casinos or card rooms that are prohibited, but absolutely all forms of wagering, from sports and pari-mutuel betting, to a simple game of bingo. In fact, the Aloha State doesn’t even run a state lottery, which makes it all the more surprising that lawmakers are now considering installing slot machines at Honolulu International Airport.
What could cause a community that is so vehemently averse to the idea of gambling to suddenly consider legalizing slots machines; notorious for being among the lowest paying, most addictive types of gambling in the world? It’s because the state needs money, and lots of it, to pay for necessary upgrades at their other international airport in Kalaoa. State Representative Cindy Evans thinks she’s found a way to generate those funds via slot machines, without posing a threat to residents of the archipelago.
HB 91 to the rescue
Last week, Rep Evans introduced the Hawaii slot machines bill, HB 91, as a measure that would amend Chapter 261 of the Hawaii Revised Statues. A new definition for “Amusement Concession” would be inserted, defined as “an establishment where a customer is authorized to play or operate any slot machine permitted under this part.”
In order to play the slot machines, however, the bill states that the customer must be at least 21 years of age, and must possess “proof of carriage on an airline flight scheduled to leave the United States within twelve hours”. Since only visitors to the airport who are scheduled to fly out of the country would be able to play the slots, Hawaii administrators shouldn’t be nearly so worried about the gambling devices corrupting their citizens.
Hawaii slot machines bill “outside the box”
Rep. Evans believes the bill is a perfect solution to an expensive, long-standing problem. By thinking “outside the box”, her measure could provide the estimated $52 million necessary to upgrade the Kona International Airport in Kalaoa. Although the title includes the term ‘international’, KOA does not actually provide international flight services, and hasn’t done so in a very long time.
US Customs withdrew the airport’s right to facilitate international flights due to the lack of a safe holding area for travelers to foreign lands. Until the state comes up with the $52 million needed to establish a full US Customs inspection station, Honolulu International will remain the only international flight service in the state; a fact that’s been causing a 20-45 minute backlog for international travelers
“There isn’t enough money in the system to upgrade the airports. I believe it would be an amusement for people waiting to leave, being held captive in the airport,” Rep. Evans explained.
If approved, the slot machines at Honolulu Intl would be operated by a concessionaire. The state would receive 86% of all net proceeds, or a “minimum annual guarantee” to be determined by the department, whichever is greater. All of the generated funds would then be deposited into an established airport revenue fund. Once enough money was raised to complete the upgrades at KOA, that airport too would be eligible to install slot machines and continue raising money for future airport upgrades across the islands.
The Hawaii slot machines bill passed its initial reading on Jan 26, and is now awaiting scheduling of a hearing within the House Transportation, Judiciary an Finance Committees.