Hawaiian Homes Gaming Bill Advances

February 10, 2010, 7:30 AM HST · Updated February 12, 9:05 AM
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A house committee this week advanced the Hawaiian Homes Casino bill with amendments.  HB2759 would allow the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to construct and operate gaming facilities with the condition that revenues are reinvested into the community.  Additionally, the bill requires that beneficiaries be consulted for approval of any plan before a proposed casino can be constructed.  Under the bill 80% of revenues would go toward the DHHL trust, and 20% would go to the state’s general fund.

The House Committee on Judiciary has passed an amended version of the bill originally introduced by Representative Mele Carroll (D-13th) of Maui.  Carroll said she is, “optimistic that this bill will empower the Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiaries by providing another option to generate the funding required to improve their infrastructure and social programs.”

DHHL puts between 500 to 1,000 beneficiaries from the waitlist on their lands per year.  Although the state has provided $30 million each year in their budget as a result of 1995 Act 14 which addressed the $600 million dollar settlement, DHHL said that their waitlist has tripled and there are now nearly 25,000 applicants on the waitlist.  That are also an additional 100 to 200 qualified applicants that are added to the waitlist each month.

“I’m worried that once the $30 million dollars allocation goes away in 2015, DHHL will not be able to meet their obligation and therefore, the State will have to look for other means of making up the $30 million including raising taxes,” said Representative Mele Carroll.  “While I’m not attached to the idea of gaming, DHHL testified that they don’t have an aggressive plan to create revenues to fulfill Article XII section 1 of the Hawaii State Constitution which says that the State has a fiduciary responsibility to provide adequate funding to place native Hawaiians on their lands.  The properties that DHHL has leased out to non-native Hawaiians for commercial purposes are not enough.  Kaulana Park has estimated that the DHHL operating budget is $18 million dollars, whereas their current revenues from commercial leases are generating only $12 million,” said Carroll.

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“We need to look at all possibilities and make sure that the beneficiaries are informed of the truth,” said Carroll.  “I am open to anyone’s suggestions in creating revenues for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands because right now, no one has stepped up to the plate and offer solutions to this devastating situation.  The discussion is good, and if this bill doesn’t get out and no other alternatives are offered, we may need to consider raising taxes as a solution to DHHL’s dilemma.  At this time, everything is on the table for discussion,” Carroll said.

“If this measure becomes an act, it could have great possibilities if done right… We are going through a severe recession right now, and as we deliberate our state of affairs, everything is on the table.  So it is important that we be creative and weigh all of our options in addressing the state’s fiduciary responsibility to provide adequate funding to the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Trust, especially since the allocation of $30 million dollars goes away in 2015,” said Carroll.

The amendments made to the bill clarify that the Hawaiian Home Lands Gaming and Hawaiian Home Lands Commissions would be required to do beneficiary consultation before a casino and resort gaming facility is built.  “As this bill moves forward,” said Carroll, “we want to make sure that there aren’t a lot of resort casinos on Hawaiian Home Lands, but possibly one or two, with the consent of the beneficiaries, if that is their will.”

(Posted by Wendy Osher; supporting information provided by the Office of Rep. Mele Carroll)

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