Hawaii Cracks Down on Gambling Dens as Online Legalization Efforts Fizzle

September 26th, 2017 | by Brian Corlisse

Police in Honolulu gave a heads-up to an estimated 100 illegal card rooms and underground slot parlors, warning that in coming weeks they intend to conduct raids. The announcement last week coincides with a crackdown on gambling violations across the island of Oahu, and was a reminder that Hawaii is still one of the most anti-gambling states in the country, despite recent efforts to change gambling laws.

Honolulu gambling raids

Honolulu Police say to expect more raids like this one, ridding the city of illegal gambling machines. (Image: Khon2-TV)

The announcement comes shortly after Hawaii’s state legislature came to a close for 2017 without advancing a bill to legalize online gambling.

It also follows about two months of raids on illicit gambling dens, in which the Honolulu Police Department has arrested 35 people for gambling related offenses.

“Game rooms affect people of all ages and socio-economic levels,” Major Larry Lawson of the HPD criminal investigation division said at a press conference. “We sometimes hear people say that gambling is harmless form of entertainment, however we know that game rooms are often the hubs of illegal activity such as drug dealing, robberies, assaults and homicides have been associated with game rooms.”

Anti-Gambling State

Police raids of poker games in Hawaii are nothing new. In 2012, police raided a home game in Maui, arresting the host and eight other players. The host was charged with second degree gambling promotion and possession of a gambling device.

The Maui Poker Association helped provide for the players’ defense, saying they were covered under Hawaii’s social gambling statutes, which is the only kind of gambling allowed in the state.

Hawaii has some of the most restrictive gambling laws of any state in the US. The only kind of wagering allowed in Hawaii are social games held in private residences with nothing of value at stake.

Efforts to Legalize Online Gambling

The crackdown comes at a time when Hawaii had early movement of a bill to legalize online gambling. State Sen. Will Espero introduced the Internet Gambling Bill, SB 677, which says:

“Tens of thousands of Hawaii residents are estimated to participate in illegal online gambling on unregulated internet websites … Moreover, tens of millions of dollars in revenue generated from online gambling are being realized by offshore operators.”

In an effort to keep money wagered at online casinos on the island, the bill looked to create the Hawaii Internet Lottery and Gaming Corporation, responsible for consumer protections and other regulations. The 28-page-bill contains proposals to legalize an internet lottery, casino games, and poker, and included a provision that would allow Hawaii to share player pools with Nevada and Delaware. It also earmarks revenues from online gambling to go to public schools, the University of Hawaii system, and programs to address problem gambling.

However, the 2017 legislative session came to a close before SB 677 moved out of committee, leaving it to next year for the state to consider taking up the effort again. And by that time, according to the Honolulu Police Department, illegal land-based gambling operations should be shut down.

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