The state of Hawaii doesn’t allow any form of gambling, but licensed and regulated online and live poker may be coming to the island thanks to a new bill titled SB755 recently introduced to the state legislature. The bill seeks to legalize Texas hold’em and Omaha games by redefining them as games of skill. The state would then be allowed to host destination tournaments for popular poker tours.According to the bill, “Experience in other markets demonstrates that many poker tournaments and championship series fill hotel rooms for the duration of the tournaments, which run for several weeks at a time, with participants, their families, and supporters, as well as poker aficionados. Furthermore, these events are televised nationally and internationally to large audiences and include scenic shots and other coverage of local attractions. This coverage provides free advertising and exposes these areas to a worldwide audience.”The bill would also allow the state to serve as a potential home base for online poker site operators. “The purpose of this Act is to authorize internet based peer-to-peer contests of skill to be hosted in Hawaii and thereby to bolster the State’s economy. The legislature also finds that the State could realize substantial revenue through a robust licensing fee and wager service hosting fees. Because these internet competitions are conducted primarily with players from Asia, the mainland United States, and other parts of the world outside Hawaii, the social ills associated with gambling would not be visited upon Hawaii residents.” The measure was originally drawn up to create a tax holiday for buying school supplies, but Rep. Angus McKelvey was forced to rewrite it after it became clear that the state could not afford the tax break. McKelvey explained that he sponsored the bill with the hopes that it would help jump start declining tourism revenue and assist citizens with an increase in local tax revenue.“Maybe this is a way to help attract mainland visitors back to Hawaii, plus you get the free promotion of this being televised,” said McKelvey. “The revenue to the state potentially could be huge.” The bill does have some more conservative opponents in the Hawaii Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. Tom Kay, the group’s attorney, explained that poker could act as a gateway game to other forms of unwanted gaming. “It will be the start of many other forms of legalized gambling in Hawaii,” Kay said. “Once you get people involved in gambling, some people will get addicted to it, and then you’ll start having problems.” The bill easily passed out of the Economic Revitalization and Business Committee by a 7-1 vote and then the House Judiciary Committee at 9-3. The next hurdle will be the House Finance Committee.
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