After years of failed attempts, local lawmakers are hoping a stripped-down approach to Hawaii sports betting can make legalization a reality.
A bill (H.B. 344) filed Jan. 20 by Rep. Joe Mizuno seeks to create the legal framework for HI sports betting, but unlike previous proposals it makes no mention of casinos, slot machines, tax rates, fees or ownership criteria.
“I’ve taken a different approach this year,” Mizuno said. “If we put too many things in, there will be too many targets to attack. When you use the word ‘casino,’ sometimes it can be like yelling ‘fire’ in a theater, so in talking with some proponents, we crafted the language very intentionally to leave things open.”
Last year’s bill would have imposed a 55% tex rate, the highest tax on sports betting in the country.
Expanding gaming in anti-gaming state
Hawaii, one of the least gambling-friendly states in the country, has not progressed in efforts to legalize sports betting, while the industry is now legal in some form in over 35 states. Currently peer-to-peer social gambling is the only legal form of gaming.
Mizuno’s latest bill would allow for stand alone establishments for patrons to bet on sports and would create the regulatory framework for online sports betting, though it doesn’t specify which entities would be eligible for a license.
“You always have to be cautious with gaming. The biggest gaming bill we ever passed was bingo. This will be difficult to pass, but I’m cautiously optimistic,” Mizuno said. “This is one of the first times I’m seeing ESPN, the local media, a number of national stakeholders connecting with us and showing a lot of interest.”
Where does Hawaii sports betting revenue go?
The bill does not specify a use for sports betting revenue beyond enforcement of the law and to cover costs associated with regulation. Revenue use will likely be a central sticking point in upcoming debates.
“A billion (dollars) of our residents’ money ends up in Las Vegas every year,” Mizuno said. “If we can contain maybe 25% of that with sports betting it could help prevent raising taxes. We could use it for housing domestic violence, homelessness, a number of things.”
Next step for Hawaii sports betting bill
Mizuno expects his new bill to be debated in the Economic Development Committee, which fellow sports betting proponent Rep. Daniel Holt chairs.
It would then need to advance through Judiciary and Consumer Protection committees before the full House chamber could vote on it.
Holt sponsored a 2019 sports betting bill that passed those first two committees before dying in the Consumer Protection Committee. It was the farthest a sports betting bill has progressed in the legislature so far.