Hawaiian Homelands Casino Bill Introduced by Carroll of Maui
Representative Mele Carroll (House District-13th) of Maui, Chairwoman of the House Committee on Native Hawaiian Affairs, introduced a bill that, if passed, would give the Hawaiian Homes Commission the right to build and operate gaming facilities on Hawaiian Home Lands with the approval of the beneficiaries. HB 2759 specifies that 20% of revenue would go toward the State’s general fund and 80% would go toward the Hawaiian Home Lands trust.
The legislature appropriates $30 million annually to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) due to a prior lawsuit, but the allocation is due to expire in 2015. In a testimony by DHHL Chairman Kaulana Park noted that approximately 25,000 applicants for Hawaiian Home Lands have been waitlisted and DHHL is only able to process between 500 and 1,000 applications per year with current funding.
Carroll introduced HB 2759 in part to provide a mechanism in which DHHL could generate funds independently and diminish its reliance on the state. When questioned by Rep. Carroll about the department’s ability to decrease the waitlist when the $30 million goes away, Bobby Hall, Executive Assistant to the Director of DHHL, said that the department is looking at an aggressive approach to replacing the funds and has made great strides to create revenue-generating projects to support the department’s mission.
DHHL currently earns about $16 to $17 million dollars in commercial lease properties. Their operations cost about $15 to $16 million dollars per year, essentially breaking nearly even. “This is scary and I don’t want to wait until we see that day where the resources are gone and we are back to step one waiting to get on the lands,” says Representative Mele Carroll. “We need to take bold steps and creatively do something now.”
HB 2759 stipulates that casinos must submit receipts of their monthly earnings, which would be taxed and closely monitored for discrepancies. Representative Mele Carroll notes that “Since we want the money to go back into the community, we would set up safeguards to prevent the embezzlement of the funds or other illicit activities. I’m introducing this bill not as a commercial enterprise, but as a mechanism that would allow DHHL to decide whether they want to consider gaming as a way to put more people onto Hawaiian Home Lands and to better fund their infrastructural and social programs.”
With the approval of the governor, the Hawaiian Homes Commission would have the power to decide whether to allow gaming and on which land to build gaming facilities. At that point, each DHHL community would have the final say as to what type of gaming facility, if any, they want built and what games would be permitted within that structure. According to Representative Mele Carroll, “The intent of this bill is to ensure that communities who decide to permit gaming would be able to customize the facilities and services to their particular homesteads.”
In addition to generating funding for DHHL and its beneficiaries, this bill is also aimed at invigorating Hawai`i’s economy by creating jobs for those in the construction and entertainment sectors as well as boosting occupancy at our hotel resorts. Representative Mele Carroll suggests that “gaming facilities could serve as a place where native Hawaiian entrepreneurs could promote their goods and services to a wider audience.” Moreover, Hawai`i residents who travel to Las Vegas for gaming in that city could be able to partake of the same activities without spending money on airfare, hotel rooms, rental cars, and other travel expenses in other states.
Twenty-two years after U.S. Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, John Radcliffe, a former resident of Wisconsin who now serves as President of Capitol Consultants, Hawai`i, notes that the Pottawatami reservation “is still gorgeous,” but now most residents have new houses and cars. He proposed that gaming could lessen Hawai`i’s dependency on Federal monies and either supplement or supplant such at-risk federal social welfare programs as Social Security and Medicare.
Kale Gumapac, spokesperson of the Kanaka Council Moku O Keawe, witnessed a similar scenario at the Tulalip Reservation in Washington. He says, “the benefits of gaming would be tremendous for the Hawaiian people in realizing health, social, and economic revitalization.
Carroll said, “With courageous and strong leadership, I think that this bill has the potential to vastly improve the lives of Native Hawaiians and the State at large.”
(Posted by Wendy Osher; supporting information courtesy Office of Rep. Mele Carroll)